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Minimising the uncertainties: The EURIS Brexit Summit

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Cutting through the clouds of Brexit uncertainty and its impact on the manufacturing sector was the aim of EURIS’ summit at The Shard, London, on 9 May, reports Michael Jones

EURIS, an advisory body for the potential impacts of the changing relationship between the UK and EU for the British government and manufacturers ­­– including those in the foodservice equipment sector – held a special Brexit Summit on 8 and 9 May, at The Shard, London.

The summit, themed ‘how to minimise the uncertainties within Brexit’, was attended by the CEOs and director generals of trade associations representing the industrial product supply sector from across Europe and featured presentations from UK Government, UK and European industry and UK academia.

The future of British trade

EURIS represents 11 British trade bodies across a large sector of industries, including FCSI’s sister body in the UK, the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA). Its members account for 25% of import and export into the European Union (EU), twice the size of the automotive industry, while its scope covers products currently covered under the European Union, rather than the free movement of people or services.

As well as CESA, EURIS members also consist of BEAMA, representing manufacturers of electrical infrastructure products and systems, GAMBICA, representing instrumentation, control, automation and laboratory technologies, the Engineering and Machinery Alliance (EAMA), an umbrella association of associations representing SME manufacturers, the Renewable Energy Association (REA), the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations (FETA), the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA), the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA), the Lighting Industry Association (LIA), the British Pump Manufacturers Association (BPMA) and the British Plastics Federation (BPF).

Minimising uncertainty

EURIS invited European colleagues from a variety of manufacturing organisations and UK civil servants from Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) and The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the EEF and officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as well as Lord Whitty, a member of the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum Advisory Board, to attend the summit.

The objectives of the summit were threefold, said Howard Porter, chair of EURIS, at a subsequent press briefing. Firstly, to give EURIS’s European counterparts an impression of what’s already happening with regards to Brexit in the UK. Secondly to hear from European colleagues on the big issues and get clarity on them, and finally, to agree a partnership going forward between UK manufacturers and their European equivalents.

There was, said Porter, a “large amount of agreement” from the meetings, indicating a consensus from attendees to “cooperate in agreements pertaining to products being bought and sold post-Brexit in UK and Europe”.

Paul O’Donnell of MTA went on to address Brexit and future trading relationships, posing the question “Do we see this world in the same way? Is European industry talking with one voice? Can we make Brexit work as well as we can do?”

O’Donnell identified four areas of focus and common ground for EURIS to concentrate its efforts on. ‘Rules of origin’, namely a process of identifying products and where they come from, was cited by O’Donnell as being “fiendishly complicated” to navigate.

‘Notable bodies’ relates to how the UK can continue to play a role in Pan-European bodies in a post-Brexit environment, while ‘Standards and regulations’ represent two issues that are, according to comments made by Scott Steedman of British Standards Institution (BSI) at an earlier summit meeting “two things that are very different”. EURIS does not want, said O’Donnell, to encourage “a race to the bottom in terms of standards and regulation. And neither does the government.”

Finally, the aim for any new ‘Customs policy and arrangements’ thinking, described by O’Donnell as “a very fraught area”, is to be as “smooth, frictionless and non-bureaucratic as possible”.

Business as usual

EURIS intends to establish a series of working groups, comprised of political and industry bodies, over the summer. The ‘EURIS European Network’ will, says the body, help to deliver “the best possible outcome from Brexit for the industrial product sector”.

“Those are the mechanisms of the issue, but we want manufacturers to carry on as before,” said Porter. “We’ve heard ‘doomsday’ stories on the news about rising costs, etc, but we want as little change as possible.”

Currency variations that are out of the hands of industry players will, said Porter, continue to affect prices, “but the availability of products should not be interrupted.”

The UK government will now hear from “one consolidated organisation in EURIS,” said Steve Brambley of Gambica and vice chair of EURIS. “If government has ever been receptive, it is now.”

Porter, similarly is confident EURIS is “reaching the right people” but conceded the body cannot influence those in government “that don’t want a deal”.

Chris Buxton, CEO of BFPA, agreed, describing EURIS as a truly “apolitical” organisation. “When you take politicians out of the equation, there isn’t much acrimony. It’s a much more collegiate atmosphere. It’s just people trying to buy and sell from each other. People who want to do business don’t care which country you come from.”

Buxton did, however stress that UK government negotiators and industry must “push back on the dogma” of Michel Barnier (European Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union)’s position that Central European countries should disinvest in Britain. “In reality, those countries want to invest in the UK,” he said.

On the positive side, Buxton quoted Lord Whitty’s prior assertion that Barnier’s so-called “red lines” of negotiations in the sand, where no government wants to compromise its position, were actually becoming increasingly “pink and dotted” in some instances, indicating some softening of attitudes.

Increased engagement

Mark Sommerfeld of the Renewable Power Association stated the manufacturing industry has perhaps “been naïve” in not fully understanding its supply chain historically, citing one certain benefit that will come from Brexit negotiations will be increased analysis of nationwide supply chain operations. “It’s imperative our industry engages with that,” he said.

Clearly there is still much to be done to cut through the uncertainty of Brexit, and with negotiations set to commence between the EU and the UK government in November (concluding in March 2019), time is running out to get to grips with the opinions of a myriad of stakeholders in the UK manufacturing sector. But with bodies such as EURIS looking out for the best interests of CESA and other supporting organisations, at least much of that uncertainty will be minimised.

Michael Jones