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If Jacob Rees-Mogg won’t listen, will you?

Dr Dani Loughran - the lady with the maroon jumper on BBC Question Time. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: Archant

Dr Dani Loughran, the ‘lady in the maroon jumper’ who was labelled a hero for taking on Jacob Rees-Mogg on Question Time, on why we need a final say.

I am the ‘lady in the maroon jumper’, who asked Jacob Rees-Mogg about his complacency over Brexit’s destructive effect on UK industry on BBC Question Time on February 14. I run an independent distributor of chemicals providing the personal care industry with innovative, high-quality raw materials which make up the products we all have in our bathrooms up and down the country.

My business imports chemicals from all over the world, and that’s why I felt compelled to take Jacob Rees-Mogg to task – over his determination to see an economically illiterate Brexit strategy, which will hugely damage businesses like mine all across the UK – as an audience member on Question Time just a few weeks ago.

We, like thousands of UK businesses, rely heavily on the ability to import and export seamlessly across Europe. Currently chemicals arrive first in the UK and are checked in our warehouse here. Once checks are complete, half are supplied to customers to manufacture products in the UK and the other half are exported to customers in continental Europe. We want to keep supplying our UK customers in this way, but Brexit will mean doubling of customs tariffs, new bureaucracy and mismatched regulations when we export into the EU, so after Brexit we have no choice but to import the EU half of our business direct into the Netherlands or Poland – bypassing the UK.

This will cut the customs duties we pay in the UK, our UK freight business, UK revenues and hence our UK taxes by half, and instead these will have to be paid to other EU countries. We do not want to do this. We are proud to have grown a thriving UK business and to pay UK taxes to support UK public services and society.

In his answer to my comments Jacob Rees-Mogg referred to a letter from chairman of INEOS chemicals (and ardent Brexiteer) Sir Jim Ratcliffe to Jean Claude-Juncker, the REACh chemical regulations, the EU economic model and a baseless assertion that Brexit will be overwhelmingly good for UK business. I would have liked to respond to Mr Rees-Mogg during Question Time, but was not given the opportunity. I was particularly struck by two things – his admiration for Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man who has relocated to Monaco to avoid up to £4bn in UK taxes (hardly a vote of confidence in the UK or a sign that he cares about post-Brexit Britain) and his incorrect point regarding the REACh chemical regulations, which he clearly did not understand despite being happy to imply that he did on the BBC. This made me wonder what important decisions are being made by Jacob Rees-Mogg and other politicians based on inaccurate information and assumptions.

I wrote to Jacob Rees-Mogg after the programme asking for a meeting. He never replied.

Dr Dani Loughran – Credit: Dr Dani Loughran

REACh is a complex set of European regulations concerning chemicals and their safe use, and it has a huge impact on my business and many others.

These regulations took 11 years to put together and are managed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki. Chemical manufacturers have spent millions registering chemicals with ECHA for use across the whole of the EU. Now, because of Brexit, the UK is withdrawing from REACh and the UK government wants to create a new system to replicate REACh just for the UK.

The UK version of REACh is being set up by DEFRA and has been described in Parliament as ‘chaotic’. DEFRA ignored industry concerns, didn’t understand the details of REACh and rushed ill-prepared legislation through Parliament in a debate where Dr Therese Coffey, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for DEFRA, jokily quoted S Club 7 lyrics. UK REACh will need a complex IT system, which is nowhere near ready. In practice, even if the new UK regulation worked well, setting up an entirely new system duplicating something that already works will just double cost, bureaucracy and probably animal testing for no obvious benefit.

The most likely outcome is that companies will not spend more millions repeating work for access to just the UK market, and so will bypass the UK entirely, meaning that chemicals authorised for use in the EU will not be available in the UK.

Take shampoo for example; to manufacture this in bulk you need tons of different ingredients, all of which need to be approved by REACh to enable the shampoo to be sold across the EU. It’s nonsensical to go to the expense and trouble of replicating approvals with UK REACh just for the much smaller UK market.

So, what is likely to happen is that manufacturers who want to use these ingredients will move out of the UK to elsewhere in the EU. Their products can then be exported from there all over the world under the network of free trade agreements which the UK will also leave on Brexit day. Another thriving British industry will decline and EU industry will gain.

The chemicals sector is the UK’s second-largest manufacturing industry and it is not good government for ministers to ignore this industry’s problems, to state inaccurately that there are no problems, and to treat the future of UK industry so frivolously.

British companies like mine want to prosper and employ people here in the UK and to pay taxes here. We have the UK’s best interests at heart. I’m not just raising problems for the sake of it. This is my livelihood, and the livelihoods of the people who work in thousands of industries across the UK, and in the public services paid for by our UK taxes.

However we voted, I imagine that most people in the UK just want the safest, healthiest, happiest and most prosperous future possible for us all. There is an answer to the question of how to get this, it is not just a matter of debate or ideology. We need to leave behind rancour and anger and look at real situations and observable facts, understand the detail, face the truth and allow the whole country to work together to create the safe and prosperous future that we all want. Jacob Rees-Mogg isn’t listening, but someone in government needs to – and fast.

Three years on from the Brexit vote it’s clear how difficult and potentially damaging Brexit will be, and that our politicians cannot deliver a good deal. So the public needs to have the final say, in a new vote on the options that are really available, with the possibility to stay in the EU if that is what people think is best for the country now.

Democracy demands a new vote on Brexit now we have a clearer idea of what it really means. Democracy has to be based on knowing what you are voting for. In 2016 nobody could know what Brexit would actually look like. Now the picture is much clearer. Anyone who voted Leave in 2016 and still thinks this was the right choice could vote Leave again. Anyone who voted Remain and still wants to remain in the EU could vote Remain again. And people who weren’t able to vote in 2016, or who have changed their minds either way based on what we have learned in the last three years, should have the right to vote again.

That is actual, responsible, grown-up democracy in action. Whatever the outcome, after a new vote without the illegal methods and untruths that were part of the 2016 campaign, nobody could say that they were misled by slogans on buses, or they didn’t think their vote would make any difference, or they weren’t sure what they were voting for. And then we really can all come together to create the peaceful and prosperous future that we all want for the UK.

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