Business leaders say Nissan remains crucial to Sunderland’s economic future despite “uncertainty” surrounding the car giant’s future plans for its Wearside plant following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.
The boss of Nissan has said future decisions about the car giant’s Sunderland plant will depend on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
But Carlos Ghosn said he was “reasonably optimistic” that the UK will continue to be a key partner of the EU and added that he hopes “common sense prevails from both sides”.
He said “most companies” will be waiting to see what happens before making decisions about investments.
Civic leaders have said that the comments are “understandable” but are calling prime minister Theresa May and her Government to make sure that the UK secures the best possible deal it can as it exits the EU.
Wearside MP Bridget Phillipson today said it is “crucial” that Nissan continues to invest in the area.
The company’s Wearside plant opened in 1986 and currently employs 6,700 people at the site, which is the most productive in Europe, with another 30,000 in the supply chain employed elsewhere in the region.
In an interview Mr Ghosn told the BBC: “Well I don’t think today you can talk about any impact before we see what is the new status of the UK.
“The question of Sunderland - Sunderland is a plant which is a European plant based in the UK.
“Most of the production out of Sunderland is exported to Europe.
“So obviously for us the relationship which is going to prevail between the UK and Europe is very important.
“So the future investment decisions are going to depend a lot into ... Okay, the UK is out of Europe. Fine.
“But what’s going to be the new status?
“So you’re going to see a period where most companies are going to be waiting to see what’s going to be the new status.”
He added: “We’re reasonably optimistic that at the end of the day common sense is going to prevail from both sides, that as many people said, UK will still continue to be a big partner of the European community.
“The question ... what’s going to happen in terms of customs, what’s going to happen in terms of trade, what’s going to happen in terms of circulation of particularly of the products.
“All of these are very sensitive elements that are going to determine how and how much we are going to invest in the UK particularly for the European market.”
A stunning win for Leave in Sunderland came despite warnings from Nissan about the consequences of Brexit.
More than six out of 10 people who voted in the North East’s largest city opted to turn their back on the EU.
At the time, the Japanese company declined to comment on the British people’s choice and the implications, but previously made it plain Remain was its preferred option for jobs and trade.
Among the firms in Sunderland who are in that supply chain are Vantec, Calsoni Kansei and Unipres.
Bridget Phillipson, who represents Houghton and Sunderland South, told the Echo: “It is absolutely crucial for the local economy and jobs that companies like Nissan continue to invest in our area.
“I understand the uncertainties following the Brexit vote are a major consideration for investment planning.
“Many businesses are waiting to see what UK’s trading relations with the EU and the rest of the world will look like.
“To protect the jobs and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, government ministers must now listen to and work with businesses across our country and the North East.”
Chairman of the North East Chamber of Commerce’s Sunderland committee Gary Hutchinson said: “Clearly we are in a period of uncertainty following the decision the country has made to leave the EU.
“Nissan as a global company are making a prudent business decision until they see the output of the negotiations and deals that are struck.
“Similar to their CEO I remain positive that common sense will prevail from both sides as it is key for not just Sunderland but the North East that the Government negotiate the best deal for Nissan and many other companies which will protect the UK economy and its businesses.”
Other civic leaders have spoken of the importance of the Government getting the best deal for the UK as it exits the EU.
Sunderland City Council leader Councillor Paul Watson said: “This is good and better news from where Nissan stood before Brexit when it said its position would be reviewed.
“While I am sure the company will continue to review its position, as this is what companies must do, it is good to hear Mr Ghosn say he is ‘cautiously optimistic’.
“Nissan is in Sunderland because it wants and needs to be in the European market and the threat to it is the uncertainty until the UK and European Union negotiate trade deals.
“My worry and fear is that automotive manufacturing in the North East of England might not be a priority for the UK Government compared to financial services and the interests of the City of London when negotiations get underway.
“We need to be looking at the uncertainty with the UK Government on its negotiating and trade priorities, not necessarily with Nissan.”
Conservative leader on the council Councillor Peter Wood said: “The statement from the Nissan chief executive should come as no surprise.
“It is understandable that with the uncertainty following the Brexit vote Nissan should feel the need to take stock.
“Nobody should underestimate the importance of Nissan to the city’s economy.
“I very much hope that Nissan will stay in Sunderland and continue to invest in and expand its Washington plant.
“It is vital the UK remains in the single market or, at least, some free trade relationship is quickly established with the EU.”
Ken Dunbar, of Sunderland Business Improvement District, said: “Nissan is a vitally important part of not just the local but also the regional economy in the North East and it is understandable that they should be saying something like this and waiting to see what happens before making any future decisions.
“This is also a very clear message to Government about how important it is to get the negotiations on our exit from the European union absolutely right and to ensure they protect the interests of influential employers like Nissan.”
Chief executive of the North East Automotive Alliance said: “The automotive sector operates on a global scale.
“A total of 80% of all vehicles produced in the UK are exported and the EU accounting for 57.5% of those exports.
“Our supply chains are also global and whilst we are increasing the level of UK content in our vehicles the fact is we still currently import 58% of our components.
“Brexit is a reality but it is the uncertainty about the new framework that we will need to operate within that is the main concern to the sector.
“Companies need clarity on the market conditions so they can make informed decisions about investment.
“The Government needs to clearly identify and communicate the policy and strategy to exit the EU, including timeline.”