Airbus’s warning that it would have to disinvest from Britain unless there was a deal in which Britain continued its membership of the EU’s air safety certification system, single market, customs union and respected the jurisdiction of the European court of justice.
Airbus’s customers need to know that every component in its planes conforms to the highest safety standards, which are set by the EU. Equally, it must strain for maximum production efficiency, fighting for every last order against Boeing; parts cannot be delayed for days, even hours, subject to time-consuming customs checks. As matters stood, warned its chief operating officer, Tom Williams, none of this could be assured: there was no clarity about Britain’s economic and trading regime after the transition period in 2020. His concerns are amply justified. Johnson’s reaction, and the parrot squawk that it is all part of Project Fear and safely to be ignored, is evidence enough. In the 21st century, it takes a continent to build a plane and the continent has to have shared trade rules, common regulatory standards and accepted adjudication processes.
Airbus actually said that absent the UK’s membership of the EU it might have to build in the US or China. Places also outside all those things.
Days earlier, Erik Nordkamp, chair of a trade association of 10 US pharmaceutical companies based in Britain, reported that 86% of life science executives responded, in a survey, that Brexit uncertainty was imperilling investment. Our traditional dominance in the life sciences, warned Nordkamp, was under threat. As in air safety, so it is in medicine. The EU’s European Medicines Agency, now moving from Britain to Holland, sets the continent’s drug standards. Again, it takes a continent to research, prototype, safety-test and launch a drug. Outside that trade and regulatory framework, and with a NHS too cash-strapped to order new drugs, another British economic flagship is set to sink.
Switzerland, a non-EU member, is also home to the occasional pharma company. I’m really quite sure of that as well.
The car industry will join its ranks. Revitalised by foreign direct investment, the UK car industry is part of a continental-wide system of production in which we disproportionately share the higher value work. BMW, maker of the Mini, warns of how a hard Brexit will force it into expensive, wasteful mitigating measures; Tata has already announced it is moving production of the Discovery Land Rover to Slovakia, while John Neill, CEO of Unipart, declares that Brexit is a fatal threat to the car industry. And our space industry, aiming to grow to £40bn by 2030, is about to be severely wounded by being excluded from the EU Galileo collaboration.
The North American car industry is continentally integrated as well. Without the EU. That is, systems – even legal systems, common standards an judicial processes – can be constructed without needing all the rest that the EU brings.
Which is why yesterday I joined the march for just that: when tens of thousands freely give up their time to make common cause over a great purpose, politicians should listen.
And when 52% of those voting in a referendum decide differently, what then? Ah, yes, just keep voting until they get the answer right. How EU of you.