Boro Boy wrote: we lost fridge making,
Yes, in the early 20th century we were world leaders in the production of fridges. I think Scottish brains were behind the development of the early technology.
But the EU is not responsible for the decline. It was purely a case of market forces and social politics.
Originally domestic appliances were the preserve of the middle class. It is only post WW2 that the working class started purchasing washing machines, electric cookers, fridges etc in significant quantities. The UK industrial base was at this point mainly smaller regional companies, protected by post-war tariff barriers. The products themselves were fairly basic - housewives were expected to appreciate the technology even if it didn't quite suit their needs. (It wasn't until the 1960s that any real market research was done).
What changed was driven by the Italians in the 50s and 60s. Their industry focussed on the newly emerging cheaper end of the market, enabled to some extent by Italian labour costs being relatively lower than other European countries. Big brands like Zanuusi, Indesit, Candy, Ignis, quickly established large shares of the Italian market. They also sold white label goods to UK manufacturers and retailers to badge as their own, bring Italian design into the home.
By the mid 1970s, the market for new sales was largely fulfilled and demand switched to replacement. Throughout the 80s and 90s, the market for refrigerating products in the UK remained more or less static, except for cyclical swings in the economy in general. The UK continued to produce fridges in the 80s and 90s, but as sales levelled out, the prices dropped due to competition, meaning fridge production was increasingly less valuable. There followed a period of consolidation where bigger brands bought out smaller ones to buy a bigger share of the market and to consolidate manufacturing and marketing efforts. Redundancies followed (about half the workforce was laid off between 1980 and 2000), adding further temporary cost to the manufacturers. Brand loyalty is high in the UK, making the UK companies an attractive target for takeover at a time when they were struggling to make good profits. By 2002, there were no UK companies in the top 5 ultimate owners, despite brands such as Hotpoint, Lec and Electrolux still dominating the market.
Alongside this change was the rise of the Far East manufacturers. Put simply, it was cheaper to source parts and finished goods from Korea and (later) China. Cheaper than the EU certainly, and the proportion of Italian-manufactured devices gave way to first Eastern Europe (Turkey especially) and then the Far East.
In 1985, the EU accounted for 86% of imported fridges, freezers etc. By 2000, it was 57%.
Imports from the rest of the world (excl the US) have risen from 12% to 38% over the same period.
In conclusion, we witnessed the refrigeration industry maturing over the second half of the 20th century, and that has been one driver for change. Italian imports had dominated the mass-market before we joined the EC and have actually lost out to non-EU producers since then. The rise of Far Eastern manufacturing has further reduced our reliance on the EU. Joining the EC did not cause the decline of the British fridge making industry, and neither will leaving it revitalise it. The economics behind this niche of commodity mass-manufacturing will follow the cheapest route to market.