THE straight banana syndrome, whereby some commentators would blame everything on the European Union whenever anything in the world went wrong, seems to have flipped on its head.
I would now call it the Private Frazer syndrome, whereby the moment anyone mentions Brexit, everything is doom and gloom, with forecasts of everything going haywire and wrong.
My advice to the Government on science and technology is the same as it is on other issues that run into Brexit – get on with it! It is the uncertainty that causes problems. The Article 50 vote should have taken place in July, and if we were too busy with internal elections, we could have had it in September. It should already have been passed. Delay and uncertainty is what industry tells me they do not like and do not wish to see.
Let me advise the Government on what to do when the Repeal Act comes – I hope they will listen. Make it simple. Every single piece of EU law should be brought into British law. If the Conservative Party or any other party wants to change that in the future, they will have plenty of opportunity if it is British law. Every single thing should become British law in one Bill in one swipe. That would help to remove uncertainty, and it would save us a lot of time.
I have spoken to many of my constituents, and several thousand have been polled. Something of a consensus is emerging in my area. The vast majority of people who voted remain feel that reducing immigration is critical to Brexit, while the vast majority of people who voted to leave find access to the single market, in whatever form, perfectly acceptable. I think that the consensus is greater than MPs are prepared to admit.
What kind of immigration are we talking about? I do not think that my constituents will complain if Parliament decides that the big universities should accept students, teaching staff and experts in science and technology from abroad.
Indeed, I will go a step further: I should like regional work visas to be introduced. My constituents do not have a strong view on which people Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland allow to work in those countries. They care about what happens in my locality. They care about whether we can stop Mike Ashley of Sports Direct employing 3.200 people from abroad and preventing them – my constituents – from applying for jobs, or reducing wages in adjoining industries. That is what they are bothered about. I think that, when it comes to where we need to be, the solutions are straightforward, although negotiations will always be complex. We need to get on with them.
We should bear in mind what we have missed out on. We were the leaders 30 years ago. We were world leaders in analogue technology, because we had the scientists, but our weakness was always to do with turning that expertise into manufactured products. Then there was the digital era. In digital microphones –indeed, in all forms of digital technology – we were world leaders 30 years ago, but we were wiped out because we were incapable of turning the technology into effective products, and the EU did not assist us in that regard.
We were also world leaders in the energy sector, but, classically, when it comes to science, technology and energy, the EU goes in 10 directions at once because of national pressures, and does not have the necessary coherence. Europe lags behind in energy technology. In the 1980s, we were world leaders in robotics but neither we nor others in Europe were capable of delivering the jobs that others did.
We skipped a generation in terms of application, and that applies to the whole computer industry even more graphically. We did not protect our embryonic industries and companies because we were not allowed to protect them, but now we are.
There is nothing wrong with control and protection when a new sector is emerging. It would be good for us to use our freedom to protect the blockchain technology sector, for instance. The geothermal sector will clearly be the next development in energy: we should use our freedom to protect the sector and allow it to develop. We must allow our universities to retain their partnerships with, for example, German, French and Italian scientists and technologists.
We must use our freedom to protect embryonic industries, so that there will be production, jobs and wealth in this country as well as ingenuity and innovation.
John Mann is the Labour MP for Bassetlaw who spoke in a Parliamentary debate on Brexit. This is an edited version.