The hopes and fears over Brexit's impact on business

(c) Sky News 2017: <a href="http://news.sky.com/story/the-hopes-and-fears-over-brexits-impact-on-business-10817817">The hopes and fears over Brexit's impact on business</a>
 

As Article 50 was being triggered, Jim Hooper was drinking probably the biggest cup of coffee I have ever seen.

A worker on the automotive line at Liberty's steel factory in the West Midlands, Jim is a fan of caffeine, and a supporter of Brexit.

"I voted out and I think we're doing the right thing," he said. "Leaving the EU will be good for this industry."

Around him sat all the trappings of a modern manufacturing plant.

A robot whirling around again and again, bending steel tubs into precisely the right angle.

Welders carefully inspecting their work.

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A long, new machine bending tubes into shape.

Here in the West Midlands is an example of what modern British production looks like - a blend of innovation and hard industry.

A factory that combines the heritage of British manufacturing with the 21st century drive towards efficiency.

Liberty Tubular Solutions makes steel tubes and cylinders for everything from Nissan cars to Rolls-Royce aero engines and chairs.

"Brexit is going to encourage customers to look inwards for manufacturing," says managing director Phil Begley.

"I'm very optimistic about the future. The signs we're getting from companies like Nissan and Honda are very encouraging."

So encouraging, in fact, that Liberty is investing in a new facility to make alloy wheels for cars.

They're hoping to make two million a year, chipping into a market presently dominated by European manufacturers.

"The great thing about wheels," says Begley, a man of quiet confidence, "is that you sell them four at a time".

But not everyone shares his cheerful attitude.

Ryanair warned that, unless a deal was done within the coming year, it might cancel flights between the UK and Europe.

And Ford's European boss, Jim Farley, said any deal needed to include a free trade agreement with the whole European customs union "and not just the EU27".

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Mr Farley also said it was "critical" that a transitional phase was put in place and added, rather portentously: "No deal would be the very worst case for the UK auto industry and would put at risk the competitiveness of the industry."

There were plenty of other statements put out as Article 50 was triggered, from companies, pressure groups and politicians across the UK and Europe, but there is a message to be taken from the contrast between the enthusiasm I saw in a West Midlands steel mill, and the anxiety that seeps out of those statements from Ford and Ryanair.

And that message is this - nobody really knows what will happen.

Some see Brexit as a catalyst for an economic renaissance, as a chance for the UK to forge its own brighter future and reinvigorate the nation's manufacturing base.

Some worry that the world will be knocked off course, and that the results will be painful and destructive.

Sitting here now, none of us - not Theresa May, not Jim Farley and not Jim Hooper and his litre-sized cup of coffee - can honestly say we know what will happen next.

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