The Government must provide more details of its Brexit vision if the likes of Nissan are to remain committed to the North East, says the MP whose constituency covers the Wearside plant.
Uncertainty over what form the Brexit deal will take hit the headlines last week, when Nissan global boss Carlos Ghosn announced the firm was holding off on further investment in its Sunderland plant and would need guarantees of compensation if it lost out as a result.
Prime Minister Theresa May laid out a timetable for the UK to leave the EU in her speech to the Tory Party conference at the weekend, suggesting suggested the Government would prioritise control over immigration rather than continued access to the European Single Market.
North East of England Chamber of Commerce head of policy Jonathan Walker said it was understandable the car giant was concerned about what form the final Brexit deal would take.
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson said: “Theresa May finally gave us some clarity about when Article 50 will be invoked and when her Government will officially begin the Brexit negotiations.
“Sadly, her speech was merely bread crumbs off a table which should have been laden with a full outline of the Government’s plans for taking us out of the EU.
The public deserve answers, rather than warm rhetoric, and instead of more bluster and hot air it is high time Theresa May and her Government got down to addressing the concerns that people have about us leaving the EU.Sharon Hodgson
“Rather than answering many of the valid questions put to her and her Brexit ministers over the summer by the public, politicians and business leaders alike, Theresa May’s speech has given us even more questions to ask, including Britain’s future in the single market – which is an important part of the success of British businesses who heavily engage with our European neighbours – and the finer details about what will happen after her Great Repeal Act is pushed through Parliament.
“The public deserve answers, rather than warm rhetoric, and instead of more bluster and hot air it is high time Theresa May and her Government got down to addressing the concerns that people have about us leaving the EU.”
One senior North East MP said the Government was ‘scrabbling around in the dark’ as it tried to prepare for Brexit.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright is a shadow business minister: “They don’t know what the negotiations are going to look like and that is a huge concern when you are trying to bring investment to the North East,” he said.
“Businesses don’t like uncertainty and this is the biggest bit of uncertainty we’ve seen in my lifetime.”
The PM’s speech did confirm that the Government would trigger Article 50 – the formal announcement of notice to leave the EU – in the New Year.
“On the one hand, it provides a timetable – Article 50 in Spring 2017 and we come out in spring 2019 – that gives us greater clarity than has happened in the past,” said Mr Wright.
“But it has never been more true that the devil is really in the detail and we are no further forward on that.”
Nissan’s reluctance to commit to further investment was understandable: “It is a perfectly rational business decision to say ‘Because of the huge uncertainty, we are going to hold off on investment’ and that is to the detriment of the North East economy, it really is.”
Jonathan Walker, head of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “There are a great number of reasons for Nissan to continue to invest in the Sunderland plant including the local management team, the workforce and excellent supply chain in North East England.
“However anyone making a long term investment decision will want certainty over trading conditions and the tax framework.
“Now that a timetable for Brexit is emerging, for the good of the North East economy we need the Government to listen to businesses as it develops its negotiating position.”
North East Automotive Alliance chief executive Paul Butler said: “When we have been discussing Brexit, the big factor has been uncertainty over what the trade terms will be.
“Now we have a date but we are still unaware of what the trade terms will be.
“Free trade is the key thing. Until we know what the situation is, it is very difficult to assess the impact on the North East automotive industry.
“Britain wants free trade with the EU - well, British business does.”
Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the national Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “The current uncertainty is not conducive to attracting manufacturing investment to the UK.
“The Government must do all it can to maintain the competitiveness of the UK automotive sector, which has been hugely successful in boosting exports, creating jobs and generating economic growth in recent years.”