Writing for the Lancashire Business View Sajjad looks at trade in Lancashire - past and future.

Lancashire has always had a rich history in business, whether it is now with the aerospace industry or with the cotton textile industry as far back as 1750.

Indeed the county is credited by many as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. By the 1830s, roughly 85% of all globally manufactured cotton was processed in Lancashire.

Britain was the largest cotton cloth producer in the world and our county was at the very heart of it.

With a wave of mass migration during the 1960s, the cotton industry which was beginning to falter was propped up on the backs of thousands of South Asian migrants who had come to the country - and Lancashire - in search of new lives and prosperity.

At present, the Asian population is as high as 70,000 (6% of the county's population), concentrated mainly in the former cotton towns, such as Burnley & Blackburn. It is this hard-working attitude of the diaspora community that has been passed on by generations, contributing significantly towards the Lancashire work ethic that exists today.

But this powerful and consistent industrial history that we are lucky to share together is under threat by Brexit and the prospect of a so-called “hard” exit from the European Union.

Regardless of how it happens Brexit is going to be bad for business, so limiting the extent of the damage is the best option we have right now and this means retaining our Single Market membership. Anything less would be senseless, damaging Lancashire and damaging the country.

As a whole, the EU is the UK’s largest trading partner. In 2016, imports from the EU accounted for 54% of all UK imports, with exports to the EU accounting for 43% of all UK exports.

Even if you put these statistics aside, geographically speaking Europe is still and always will be our closest trading partner - it only makes sense to keep it that way.

A key argument of Brexiteers is of being able to broker our own trade deals with the rest of the world. This is all well and good, but the reality of it is quite different.

As Chairman of the South Asia Trade Monitoring Committee in the European Parliament - as well as having been the institution’s lead negotiator on an EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) - my experience has been that trade deals are never quite as simple or easy to conclude as Brexiteers like to imply.

What’s more is that the UK has for a long time now acted as a link. It has been the business bridge into the EU for Commonwealth countries, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh - in large part due to our sizeable diaspora community. Without this link these nations will have no choice but to move their business with the EU to other Member States.

The irony in this is that it is these very Commonwealth countries that Brexiteers wish to negotiate new FTAs with.

Whilst Brexit is still going ahead though, I will be fighting for a “soft” departure until the end, in both the interests of Lancashire, the North West and of the country.

However, irrespective of the outcome, we only have to look to our history as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution to know that Lancastrians will always have a place in the business world.


Sajjad Karim is a British Conservative MEP for the North West of England. He was born and raised in Lancashire, and was elected to the European Parliament in 2004, where he now Chairs the South Asia Trade Monitoring Committee - a subgroup of the influential International Trade Committee.