As Brexit negotiations roil and foment in the corridors of Westminster in London, the Berlaymont in Brussels and as they continue to inflame passions on leave and remain sides in the UK, the SMMT’s (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders ) senior policy manager, Sydney Nash outlined his thoughts on just where – or where not- Britain is headed post-March. Just-Auto caught up with him at the recent SMMT Regional Forum where Brexit was very much the theme of the day.
Nash is a senior policy manager at the SMMT, the UK’s leading automotive trade association, representing more than 800 companies. He is responsible for government relations and delivery of SMMT’s policy agenda, with a particular focus on Brexit, technological disruption and digitalisation, environmental policy and industrial strategy.
Prior to joining SMMT, Nash worked for the UK government for ten years, where he led strategic engagement with the EU for the Department for Business, was an EU negotiator and wrote the Coalition Government’s (2010-2015) single market strategy. Nash has also worked in Cabinet Office and the European Commission.
The senior policy manager made his comments at the SMMT’s recent Regional Forum in the UK’s East Midlands city of Derby – home to nearby Toyota – and where the association hosted a range of suppliers and OEMs to discuss the most pressing issue of our time – or at least it feels that way if you live in the UK.
JA: What’s your assessment with where we are with the talks between London and Brussels on the UK’s exit on 29 March next year?
SN: During the past few months we have gone on a journey on the negotiations and [it has] not always been a smooth one. There has been talk of “no-deal” – an unacceptable outcome for UK automotive. We have had a European Council in Salzburg that did not go well and there will be another next week that everyone hopes will go much better. In the UK we have two competing sides deep in the trenches shouting at each other.
Every day a new word is added to Brexit lexicon. Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, Canada +++, Remainiac and now Super Canada. This is hugely confusing for business and the public. One thing is clear though, the automotive position. We have consulted our members and you [SMMT members] told us you want to have the benefits of the Single Market by having one set of rules that apply to automotive in the UK and the EU and you want to remain in the Customs Union so as to guarantee the free flow of goods across the border.
JA: What happens now? The last couple of EU summits don’t seem to have delivered a final deal.
SN: There may be an Extraordinary Council [meeting] in November. We are now in the end game and all the players remain the same; same [UK] Prime Minister, Michel Barnier [Chief Negotiator – Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK] is going nowhere.
The UK and the EU reaching agreement still remains likely, but the UK Parliament have to agree the terms as well.
In reality, there is no majority in Parliament for any form of Brexit – that makes it particularly challenging for the Prime Minister. By 21 January at the latest, the government has to lay a motion in front of Parliament setting out what it has agreed with the EU or stating nothing has been agreed. Parliament will then have its say.
One thing is certain. Come 29 March next year at 23:00 GMT, the UK will leave the European Union. The question is what will the world look like at 23:01? If there is no agreement, there will frankly be a chaotic exit.
The other option is there is an agreement and a managed withdrawal that includes a transition. Economically speaking, the world continues as it did beforehand. That is what we want. We hope for the best.
But we have to also plan for the worst and I believe the Brexit Readiness Programme we are launching will be invaluable for that.