BREXIT BLOG: Hands off a customs arrangement and our ceramic industry

A couple of days ago former Trade Minister Greg Hands penned a piece for the Times on “why a customs union is the wrong choice for MPs”. The article was an interesting, eyebrow-raising read. It painted a picture of 2021 and the difficulties a fictional Stoke-on-Trent MP would have supporting our local ceramic industry if the UK’s trade policy was bound up in a customs union with the EU.

Designed to convince Parliament to ditch any support for a lasting customs union, the yarn spun by Greg was work of fantasy to rival anything JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin could manage.

For a start, the Chelsea and Fulham MP suggested that the EU wouldn’t bother to take trade remedy action against Chinese dumped ceramics. This is laughable, as it was the UK Government that resisted the implementation of anti-dumping duties for ceramic tiles in 2011 and abstained when the EU took action on tableware in 2013. Within just the last couple of weeks, the EU has initiated an investigation to take strong action against Chinese tableware companies who circumvent duties.  In contrast, when Greg was Trade Minister he proposed the formation of a new UK remedies system which would have been far less supportive of manufacturers than the EU equivalent.

Greg suggests that the EU’s focus would be on Dutch and German steel producers rather than our small ceramics firms. Again, the irony is that in recent years it was the UK Government’s proposals to reshape the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and renewables compensation that helped out steel at the expense of other sectors, such as ceramics. Brussels has tended to take a more holistic approach to industry than Westminster.

The article goes on to scaremonger about the potential re-invigoration of an EU-US trade deal and implications for NHS procurement. This is an astonishing criticism of a customs union – the UK Government was one of the strongest advocates for TTIP, while the European Parliament and civil society voiced concerns. Liam Fox has already consulted on a potential UK-USA deal which would be subject to the same sort of concessions as TTIP.

Our confederation’s board has discussed Brexit extensively in the last four years. We supported the Prime Minister’s deal because it was the only thing on the table in November. However, if a Parliamentary consensus were able to coalesce around a permanent customs arrangement this is something our board would strongly support, and for that matter a framework that doesn’t fall behind the EU in workers’ rights or protections for the environment. So, Greg’s use of our industry to try and nudge the Commons away from a Customs Union option is disingenuous to say the least. It’s this sort of proliferation of guff that is fuelling the current political crisis and driving the UK economy off a cliff edge.

Today we’re hosting a Sector Summit where our industry is coming together to consider the nuances of Brexit. Our country would be in a much stronger position if those in the Commons dropped their binary positions and appreciated the nuances too. Our sector, and many others need a deal and we need it soon.

We need MPs of all parties to put aside their narrow ideological and party differences. They need to work together at this time of national crisis for the good of the country to find a consensus. This requires give and take by everyone.  Jobs, businesses and investment are at stake.

PRESS RELEASE: Zero tariffs whitewash

Government’s announcement to introduce zero tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, has shocked many in the ceramic manufacturing sector.

The move comes following months of campaigning and lobbying by the British Ceramic Confederation, in an attempt to convince officials and politicians of the threat this poses to the sector. 

Some concessions have been made, but they do not come near the current levels of products with import tariffs.

Unfortunately, there’s been no official consultation or assessment and industry leaders are reeling from the lack of engagement.

Laura Cohen, Chief Executive of the British Ceramic Confederation said: “We are shocked and alarmed by the announcements this morning on zero tariffs.

“Under the EU, taxes are levied on more than 50 different ceramic products imported into this country from across the world.

“At the stroke of a pen, politicians are removing these, and have decided to continue just six.

“They have not even included all the products that have additional anti-dumping remedies.

“We are especially concerned the tariff code covering most of our British wall tile production, is not included. It had previously been subject to anti-dumping measures.
“We hope this is an administrative error.

“Zero tariffs could destroy many manufacturing sectors in Britain.”

The confederation has warned there are far-reaching consequences across the British economy impacting people’s jobs, businesses and communities.

Dr Cohen added: “Government says ‘they’ll see how it goes for a year’ but that just isn’t good enough. Our successful businesses have already tied up most of their cash in Brexit preparations, in stocks or raw materials and finished goods, in paying overtime to deal with a spike in export orders, with resulting sparse order books in April and May.

“If they have a flood of imports on top of this, it’s going to be really challenging. At the same time, in a no deal Brexit our British manufacturers’ products would suddenly be more expensive in Europe and in places like South Korea and Canada where we will have lost our preferential access. It’s a double whammy.”

There are specific concerns for bathroom manufacturers and tile manufactures, two of the areas subject to the zero tariff whitewash.

Neil Gore, Managing Director of The Imperial Bathroom Company, in Aldridge, said: “We are one of just a handful of British ceramic bathroom manufacturers left in this country with over 90% having disappeared in the last 20 years.

“We employ 85 people, making the very finest British, top quality products, sold all around the world.

“The tariff code for imported basins, pedestals, toilets and cisterns from our international competitors will be zero according to the announcements today, which gives another significant benefit to our competitors whilst our exports to those markets being charged tariffs.

“I urge Government to reconsider, we need action to support the manufacturing sector, not destroy it.”



Notes to editors

The British Ceramic Confederation is the trade association for the UK ceramic manufacturing industry, representing the common and collective interests of all sectors of the industry. Its member companies cover the full spectrum of ceramic manufacturing, including the supply of materials, and comprise over 90% of the industry’s manufacturing capacity.


For further information please contact: 

Ciara Jagger, Publicity and Project Officer, British Ceramic Confederation, Federation House, Station Road, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 2SA.

Tel:  01782 572851 M: 07812181872   E-mail: