Brexit must refresh parts of the UK like Stoke which the EU has failed to reach

Brexit must refresh parts of the UK like Stoke which the EU has failed to reach

Brexit continues to dominate the political agenda. My constituents were very clear in the referendum: they voted 70% to Leave. They think Brexit should indeed mean Brexit, something manifestly different to the status quo. Many felt membership of the EU had not benefited traditional working-class areas, that it had not brought improvements to their own quality of life, that it had not realised the huge potential for a major revival of our world-class ceramics industry.

This need – and the entirely realistic desire – for an increased number of skilled manufacturing jobs is why so many in Stoke-on-Trent voted so overwhelmingly to Leave (and it is one of the reasons why the Conservatives won seats like Stoke-on-Trent South at this year’s general election). It is crucial that we now deliver the change that people voted for and that we make a success of Brexit for my constituents and the entire country.

It is sometimes hard to explain to people in London how left-behind places like Stoke-on-Trent feel. Whilst people in the South East fret that their ordinary homes are pushing against the Inheritance Tax threshold, it is still possible in my constituency to buy perfectly sound two- or three-bedroom houses for well under £100,000. Equally, protests that 12-carriage trains every five or eight minutes are insufficient for a metropolitan commute seem a world away in a market town like Longton in Stoke-on-Trent South, currently served by just one, often single-carriage, train an hour.

And as much as London has seemed remote and uninterested, Brussels has seemed more so. Leaving the EU must be a watershed moment for us to restore the prestige of regions that have not felt the benefits of membership, that feel overlooked, snubbed and patronisingly sneered at. In Stoke-on-Trent we make art from dirt – and we are proud to sell it across the world. ‘Made in Stoke-on-Trent’ is a premium brand in international ceramics markets, and we need to ensure that we use this soft power to earn hard cash. My constituents are relying on Brexit to refresh the parts the EU cannot reach, with a closer policy focus on how local, regional Britain can benefit from a global trading future.

We have our own part to play in that. Stoke-on-Trent needs to be an ever-more attractive place for business investment and to tourists – to people who will come here and buy our goods straight from the factories and workshops, spending their cash in our hotels, attractions, cafes and markets. We need to see new infrastructure investment that enables businesses to prosper, leverages further investment, and creates the skilled jobs that people need.

That means working with an enabling government for a sector deal for ceramics. It means partners coming together locally, as they have, to work towards our global ambition for a dedicated Ceramic Park that will turn an old quarry into a world centre of excellence – a place rooted in the authentic heritage of the Potteries where innovation in science, technology and design come together to drive economic growth.

Most of all, we need to open new markets to the full range of our ceramic manufacturing. It’s not just art we make from dirt, it’s advanced components for the high-tech automative, aerospace, defence and digital industries, for medical devices and implants, and for renewable energy technology. Far from being an industry of the past, ceramics is at the very forefront of the digital, high-tech future that the Government rightly chooses to champion. The UK ceramics industry is hugely ambitious: it is seeking to secure significantly increased year-on-year growth and increase our international market share.

Success in the biggest ceramics markets – countries like South Korea, Japan and the USA – is absolutely key to Stoke-on-Trent’s local prosperity from global trade. We also need to re-embrace our ceramics industry here at home. It is shocking that we make the best ceramic goods in the world but run a trade deficit in the sector. Domestic opportunities, not least the Government’s national commitment to house-building, skills training, T-Levels and apprenticeships, need to be capitalised on by regional manufacturing. We need to win the contracts to supply the bricks, tiles, sanitary ware and household ceramics that new homes will need.

As I said during the Second Reading debate of the EU Withdrawal Bill, I am optimistic about our future in leaving the EU. For areas like Stoke-on-Trent, which have a strong manufacturing tradition, opportunities will flow from Britain becoming a truly global trading nation, championing new trade agreements with both the EU and the wider world that will allow our businesses to export more of the fantastic goods we produce whilst guarding against dumping by rogue competitors.

Our part of the deal is to keep on making the best ceramics products in the world – which, as a city, is precisely what we have always wanted to do. Brexit must open world markets to our local manufacturing excellence.

Photocredit: Andrew Stawarz