Ignore Manufacturers' Complaints on Brexit, Farage Tells May

(Bloomberg) -- Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party and a key figure in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, said the manufacturing industry is too small to be allowed to hold back Brexit.

Speaking after Airbus SAS warned that it may pull its investment from the U.K., putting 100,000 jobs at risk, Farage accused the government of taking too much notice of business lobbying. Manufacturing is “10 percent of the U.K. economy, and you’ve got to think about the rest of it,” he told Sky News on Friday.

It’s a strange line of attack for Farage, who championed the British fishing industry in the 2016 referendum campaign, joining a flotilla of boats on the Thames in London to protest EU regulations. Fishing and fish processing make up 0.12 percent of U.K. economic output, and employ 24,000 people.

The manufacturing industry employed 2.7 million people in the U.K. as of 2017.

Fishing was just one aspect of Farage’s direct appeal to blue-collar workers in the campaign. He argued that leaving the EU was the best way to protect jobs and wages from competition from immigration.

But Farage’s line had shifted on Friday. Challenged by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke about the problems facing companies from post-Brexit customs restrictions, Farage didn’t deny that he thinks lay-offs would be a price worth paying if it meant a clean break from the bloc.

“The referendum wasn’t about economics, it was about do we want to govern our own country, yes or no?” Farage said. “We chose to govern our own country. That is the fork in the road this government has been told to follow, and they’re not doing it.”

So one thing at least is clear now. Farage’s protest was more about the symbolism of an over-reaching EU than about livelihoods and jobs.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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