A leading Yorkshire industrialist has warned that Britain faces “a giant leap back to the 1970s” and major job losses in manufacturing if the UK votes to leave the EU.
Andrew Cook, chairman of engineering group William Cook Holdings, is treasurer of the Tory campaign to stay in the EU.
He is understood to be Yorkshire’s biggest donor to the Conservative Party.
Mr Cook said: “Those UK engineers who have survived the various recessions of the past 25 years have succeeded by modernising, adapting and seeking new markets to replace the traditional domestic market which has dwindled to insignificance.
“Chief among these new markets has been mainland Europe. It is no exaggeration to say that without the single European market, the UK manufacturing sector would be significantly smaller still, as would William Cook.”
He said that there is a critical mass in manufacturing, which is barely being achieved now in Britain, and this critical mass is essential if supply chains and skill bases are to be maintained.
“Already there are large gaps in Britain’s manufacturing capability. Retaining an adequate skill base is extremely difficult,” he said.
“Impede access to the single market, and I believe the British engineering industry will fall far below critical mass. Job losses will be considerable and an entire sector of our economy could ultimately perish.”
Mr Cook has invested £10m in his Yorkshire facilities over the last two years. In Leeds, he has spent £5m on new machine tools and factory buildings to make components for the European rail industry. In Sheffield, he has invested a similar sum to bring two sites together into one following the collapse of the oil and gas industry.
With the advent of the single European market in 1992, Mr Cook became a major exporter, helped by more liberal labour laws, lower employment taxes and free movement of skilled workers from the new EU member countries, while the euro made selling to the Continent much easier.
He added: “I still have competitors in mainland Europe who would be delighted to exclude me from their markets. A vote to leave will give them the justification to demand the immediate erection of tariff barriers against competing British-made goods.”
William Cook has competitors all over the world, particularly in low-cost countries like China.
Europe is in effect his domestic market and an exit from the EU would threaten his business and his 600 employees’ jobs.
“We face a giant leap back to the 1970s. They were unhappy times, when over-mighty trade unions drove up wages.”
The Brexit side said Treasury analysis has “grossly exaggerated” the impact leaving Europe would have on finances.