Nissan may reconsider future of Sunderland plant if UK leaves the European Union, says chief exec

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THE head of Nissan has warned the car maker would “reconsider” the future of the firm’s Sunderland plant if the UK left the European Union.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of the Japanese motoring company, has said the company it would re-evaluate its position if the UK was to leave the EU.

Speaking at the launch of Nissan’s new Qashqai model, he said: “If anything has to change we (would) need to reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future.”

But he added that he considered such an exit unlikely.

The new Qashqai will be built at Nissan’s Sunderland site, which employs 6,500 workers.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a vote on EU membership in 2017 if the Conservatives win the next general election in 2015.

Lord Jones of Birmingham - who as Digby Jones was director general of the CBI - said Britain must be ready to leave the EU to boost its competitiveness in the open market.

Writing in The Times, he warned that the EU was a “job destroyer” and that leaving would not be an “unattractive option”.

Asked about the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, Mr Ghosn told the BBC: “Obviously it’s going to be a major factor happening and we are going to need to consider what does it mean for us for the future.

“I’m not worried about Sunderland. Sunderland is a very competitive plant, it’s a very productive plant and it’s a European plant based in the UK.

“If anything has to change, we need to reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future.”

John Mills, co-chairman of the Business for Britain group, which is seeking reform of the UK’s EU membership, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If Britain were to leave the EU - and that’s not what Business for Britain is advocating - I think that Nissanand any other car company would have to take a view as to what the prospects were, particularly if we continue to have free trade with Europe, which is very likely to happen.

“What we are saying is that if there’s renegotiation then a much larger proportion of British business would want to stay in. I think Mr Ghosn would be wise to support what we say, which is to push for these negotiations to be successfully accomplished.”

The Northern TUC has warned of the serious economic damage that would be caused by Nissan’s possible departure from the North East.

Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said: “Nissan is an integral part of our economy and the workforce there have helped make the plant a flagship of UK manufacturing.

“A serious reduction in investment from Nissan would shake the foundations of the North East economy. It seems bizarre that there are Conservative MPs and ministers who seem to be more interested in playing politics over Europe instead of focusing wholeheartedly on maximising jobs and investment in our region.

“The North East has the highest unemployment in the country and we simply cannot afford to lose a single job. The UK’s membership of the European Union is vital to our regional economy and guarantees important rights at work. I hope the remarks from Nissan make people sit up and realise what’s at stake.”

Lib Dem MEP Fiona Hall said: “This is a stark warning about the catastrophic damage the North East economy would suffer if we were to pull out, and it is one we cannot afford to ignore.

“Nissan is not just 6,000 jobs on Wearside, it is many thousands more across the region. Their importance to the North East can hardly be overstated. Workers and their families will rightly be asking why UKIP and the Conservatives are playing fast and loose with their jobs by talking up an exit instead of focusing on doing more to encourage the recovery.

“Fortunately I think Mr Ghosn is right when he says an exit is unlikely, because the business case for staying in is overwhelming. But the uncertainty that has been created by politicians putting their self-interest ahead of the region’s economic well-being is already jeopardising investment.

“James Wharton may be the darling of the eurosceptic wing of the Tory party but he now finds himself on the side of the argument fighting against North East jobs.”