Business Secretary on Sheffield visit says accepting no deal damage would be 'crazy'

Business Secretary Greg Clark said it would be “crazy” to accept any loss of prosperity from a no deal Brexit, on a visit to a booming manufacturing site in Sheffield.

Greg Clark, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, pictured with James Lindsey, project engineer at the AMRC. Picture: Marie Caley NSST-08-07-19-AMRC-4

Facilities such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre offered a golden opportunity for the UK to “rev up” demand for cutting edge innovation, rather than accepting a slowdown, he stated.

Mr Clark, who campaigned for Remain before the referendum, said: “I think it’s hard to judge quantitatively the impact of something that I hope will never happen. But any loss of prosperity and loss of income growth is something that we would be crazy to accept.

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“We should be accelerating demand for cutting edge innovation and goods and services. This is a golden opportunity for the UK to be revving up rather than accepting we should be slowing down.

“I personally shall be doing everything I can to avoid a slowdown.”

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated three times before she resigned. The Brexit impasse has led to both candidates for the job - Boris Johnson Jeremy Hunt - threatening to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on October 31.

Mr Clark said a change of leadership could offer the chance for new negotiations.

“It will be for the new Prime Minister to negotiate a deal. There will be an opportunity with a change of leadership to have a fresh start. Often it's a chance to reboot relationships.

“I hope Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt achieve a deal that’s good for the whole country, but especially parts such as Yorkshire and Sheffield.

“I campaigned for remain but in the referendum the majority voted to leave. I think it’s been frustrating and damaging that we are three years on and haven’t found a way to leave with a deal yet.

“We need to resolve it and if we do, facilities like this which are already doing well, will soar.

“Having the right Industrial Strategy does pay dividends and South Yorkshire has got the biggest jobs growth in the UK despite the uncertainty.

“The rewards of doubling down on advanced manufacturing and the creation of good jobs is visible to everyone.”

Mr Clark was in Sheffield to launch the country’s first Smart Factory, based at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, part of Sheffield University.

Rolls Royce and a dozen others will make a version of their systems available to SME bosses in the supply chain so they can be sure their hi-tech kit and processes work, ‘de-risking’ investment in digital technologies. It is the biggest, most joined-up push yet into digital manufacturing in the UK.

Mr Clark added: “There is so much going on here that is cutting edge. The Smart Factory at the AMRC is linking up big companies and small companies. There’s no real conflict of interest. Rolls Royce wants sophisticated suppliers, that’s why it is disseminating cutting edge technology, it’s in their own interests.

“It’s a very competitive world and the UK has a fantastic reputation for advanced manufacturing. It’s brilliant that Sheffield University is now in top spot for engineering research income.

“I want it to be prospering globally, but not at the expense of the places that it has leapfrogged.

“If we hadn’t been talking so much about Brexit, more attention and celebration would have been given to the success of places like this.

“I have always been of the very strong view, and almost all businesses say, how vital it is to be able to trade without frictions. And we should be internationally-focused. I will always be a very strong advocate of that.”

This week, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, Mike Cherry, said a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” for small businesses in the UK.

Steven Phipson, chief executive of manufacturing organisation Make UK, said “no deal does not work” because of the damage to systems of trade, built up over 40 years, resulting from a “hard stop.”

Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield has slammed a lack of progress on a government fund set to replace £605m of EU regional development cash earmarked for South Yorkshire between 2021 and 2027.

Meanwhile, some 25,000 jobs hang in the balance after British Steel, based in Scunthorpe, collapsed, with bosses blaming Brexit. The firm is being propped up by the government in the hope a buyer can be found.