A letter to Boris Johnson sent a fortnight ago by James Ramsbotham asked the prime minister to save the Northeast from the “damage that Brexit is doing to our economy” and urged him to give it “his most urgent and personal attention.”
Two weeks later, there is still no response.
Ramsbotham is the executive director of the North East England Chamber of Commerce and speaks on behalf of thousands of companies trapped by red tape and the added costs of complying with EU rules. In a recent survey, 38% of members said sales to Europe had fallen since January.
“This is not an initial problem,” he says. “Our ports face the EU and our region has the highest share of any export to the EU. It is vital that more barriers are removed. “
Surveys conducted by the chamber show that three-quarters of its members wanted to stay in the single market when asked for their personal views.
The same proportion reported that they had suffered financially from leaving the EU.
“Many businessmen in the Northeast tell me that the only way to improve the situation is to go back to the single market. We did not say that in the letter because the prime minister’s dogmatic attitude towards the issue told us that it would fall on deaf ears, ”he says.
Instead, the group called for a loosening of the rules to allow more HGV truck drivers to work in the UK and more generous funding from the Brexit SME Support Fund to help more companies train staff and buy. the necessary equipment to complete new customs controls.
The letter ended by telling the prime minister: “Damaging the capacity of the companies that create wealth for our nation will make this country much poorer. Doing so as we struggle to recover from the pandemic, with all the resulting debt, will be a burden on this nation for decades. “
Ramsbotham, a former Barclays Bank executive and son of former Army General David Ramsbotham, a life partner of cross banking, said he is “totally apolitical” and when he doesn’t speak to local businesses, he spends much of his time talking. with local council leaders. – most of them Labor.
“It seems to me that this government has broken the traditional link between the Conservative Party and business. The real problem is the complete lack of strategic planning. From our perspective, there have been none. And Brexit was the same. There was no strategic plan for Brexit to be a success, “he says.
Tariffs may have been kept at zero under the UK-EU trade deal, but Ramsbotham provided a long list of hurdles that “ministers didn’t resolve,” including how to apply new rules of origin that determine what goods qualify as tariffs. free, difficulties in obtaining export health certificates and additional controls of goods that create queues at ports.
His sense of loss at leaving the EU is supported by an analysis from the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex. Last month, he said that between January and April this year, the trade and cooperation agreement negotiated to succeed the customs union “reduced UK exports to the EU by 18.7% and EU imports by 25.8%, compared to the scenario in which the UK did not leave the EU ”.
The Northeast has one of the smallest private sectors relative to the size of the economy after decades of government support that has seen various Whitehall administrative departments leave London.
Earlier this year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the latter would be a “Treasury campus” in Darlington, which he said showed the government was serious about upgrading.
Ramsbotham, who will step down as chief executive officer of the chamber this fall after 15 years to become president of the Newcastle Building Society, is not impressed. He says investments are shifting away from the region, citing rail manufacturer Hitachi’s plans for the region as an example.
“Hitachi bought a site in the northeast in order to build trains for all of Europe. The place was big enough for three factories, but they’ve only built one and the rest of the land is vacant. If you want to see where the trains for the EU will be manufactured, you will need to visit the new Hitachi factory in Italy. “
Referring to the cabinet, he says: “If Brexit were a success, you would think they would be shouting it from the rooftops, but they are not.”