Last night I attended a British Chamber of Commerce event at the British Ambassador’s residence sponsored by Jaguar Landrover, We were addressed by Mike Wright, Executive Director of JLR, as well as West Midlands Labour MEP Siôn Simon, and Carlo Pettinelli, from the Commission.
Given the patchy record of the take-over of British auto brands by Asian companies, I must admit that I feared the worst when I heard in 2008 that Jaguar was to be taken over by Indian conglomerate Tata. (Let me declare an interest: I love the marque, and currently drive an XKR). I was utterly wrong. Tata brought a combination of deep pockets, management skills and distribution networks, critically coupled (in the case of Mr. Tata) with a profound respect and love for the brand. They have done wonders. Today JLR is making annual profits that exceed the price Tata paid for the business.
Mr. Wright told this story in clear and cogent terms – though remarking on the way that energy prices in the UK posed a problem for the manufacturing sector. That’s an issue I’ve been banging on about for years.
I was accompanied by several UKIP colleagues, including Amjad Bashir from Yorkshire; Jill Seymour, Transport Spokesman, W.Mids; and Bill Etheridge, W.Mids. Between us we rather dominated the questions session, but I was delighted by the clear, positive and professional way in which colleagues made their points. They reflected well on the Party.
I managed to get the first question.
Mr. Chairman, I have questions for all three panellists. Siôn Simon told us that EU membership was fundamental to Jaguar’s success, and that if the UK left the EU, inward investment would dry up, existing investors would flee to the continent, and jobs would be lost. Does he recall that EU advocates were saying exactly the same, fifteen years ago, about what would happen if we failed to join the €uro? Does he recognise that they were wholly wrong then, and can’t he understand that they are wholly wrong now? Does he recall that Ford, no inconsiderable auto company, recently moved its van operations out of Hampshire, out of the UK, out of the EU, to Turkey? Doesn’t that show that you don’t have to be in the EU to trade with it?”.
His answer was mostly flannel, and the assertion that all major companies wanted to stay in. This in fact is simply not true, and many of those that say they want to stay in have a weather eye on EU contracts and EU funding. They can only maintain their lobbying position by toeing the party line. I continued:
Mr. Pettinelli, you said it was the Commission’s job to create conditions in which EU businesses could succeed. Did you notice that Mr. Wright called attention to the problems created by high energy prices in the EU? Do you recall that out-going Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani said that “We are creating an industrial massacre in Europe with energy prices?”
In reply, he talked about the importance of energy efficiency, about increasing competition, completing the internal market, and improving distribution infrastructure. These are all worthy aims, but they are merely fiddling at the margin compared to the elephant in the room – our vast waste of money and resources on inefficient and intermittent renewables that fail to deliver either significant reductions in emissions or competitive prices. The EU has no policy that can deliver secure and affordable energy. UKIP has.
I also put a couple of questions about the business to Mr. Wright, but they were of less political consequence.
I was struck by another comment that Mr. Simon made. He said that China was prepared to deal with Europe, not the UK, and that was a reason for continued EU membership. Clearly, he was just plain wrong. China does in fact trade rather substantially with the UK, and it does that because we are a major market, not because we’re in the EU. But his point is surely irrelevant in this case. JLR is just opening its first big factory in China. We’re talking Jaguar cars built in China in a factory owned by an Indian company. The EU simply has no relevance at all.
Our MEPs, 24-strong and the largest UK delegation in Brussels, are certainly starting to make their presence felt. And in a good way. I was proud of them.