Great Britain’s decision to exit the European Union will have major ramifications domestically and regionally, ones which could even spread downstream to the motorsport industry.
That the 52%:48% ‘Leave’ outcome was a shock would be a masterstroke of understatement. For over 40 years, the United Kingdom has reaped many benefits of free access to Europe.
From labour, to trade, to travel: the structure was designed to boost employment, spread wealth across Europe, raise standards of living and encourage an environment of stability and peace. It fostered an region where millions of people could see amazing sights, experience a range of cultures, shop their asses off, eat different food and learn to become people who were more open to differences in culture, experience and beliefs.
That was not the brief being swallowed and regurgitated by those in the ‘Leave’ camp. Aided by a passive government and opposition that thought arrogantly thought it could win a referendum it didn’t even need to call, some hardliners desperate for a headline in the Murdoch press were able to get traction in beating the anti-EU drum.
The propaganda – much of it, outright lies – was peddled with little critical thinking from the constituency, who were growing increasingly sick of today’s political classes and how out of step they are with their electorate. One only needs to look at how the conservative side of the United States is on the verge of electing a discredited and failed businessman turned reality TV as its next president to realise just how dire the situation is.
The ‘Leave’ camp took full advantage of the landscape in front of it, and sucking along a wave of gullible and misguided citizens, voted to quit Europe without any understanding of what that actually entailed. One of the biggest Google searches from UK IP addresses in the hours following the Brexit announcement was ‘What is the EU?’…
Quite what happens to the motorsport industry is anyone’s guess at this stage. For an industry to remain financially competitive, it needs a skilled workforce and technology and easy access to its target markets. Exiting the EU will dramatically impact British businesses’ ability to be competitive, as they will now be reliant on the country negotiating individual and comparable trade deals with the other 27 European Union member states.
The British may want to buy what other countries have to sell, but the unknown factor of the future will be the potential trade barriers that this decision could put up.
The United Kingdom’s biggest import and export commodity is the automobile, amounting to $46-47 billion each way per year. The British car industry employs over 800,000 people and produces 1.6 million vehicles per year; it is the country’s biggest industry in the manufacturing sector.
A number of foreign carmakers chose to set up and expand their presence in the UK, but its pending exit from the EU could change that landscape and send the resources and jobs somewhere else if the companies are not getting what they want to keep their shareholders happy. Money talks and bullshit walks, as they say…
By contrast the British motorsport industry is something of a cottage industry in the grand scheme of the entire economy. There are currently eight Formula 1 teams headquartered in the UK, ably supported by a broad network of specialist suppliers who also support the auto industry more broadly. The ‘silicon valley’ stretching from Silverstone to Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds exists in such strength because of a talented workforce pool, although it too has suffered in recent decades as evidenced by the decline of the likes of Lola, Cosworth and Reynard.
What will happen to this localised industry if it erodes the carmaker and supplier base in the United Kingdom, if the companies can’t easily get the goods or the work permits for skilled foreign workers? The best British-based teams do not run with a majority British workforce, nor are they supplied exclusively with British-made parts. Narrowing the opportunity to get the best supply chains and personnel will, however, have a dramatic impact.
The future is very uncertain.
Image via ABTA