Why Sunderland should be grateful to Europe - by MP Julie Elliott

MP Julie Elliott.
MP Julie Elliott.
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Anyone who lives in Sunderland knows just how important the Nissan plant is to our city. Nearly 7,000 Wearsiders work there.

But this Sunderland success story wouldn’t be possible without Europe.

Around 80 per cent of all the cars made in Sunderland are sold in continental Europe. The EU is by miles our biggest customer.

Thousands of people a year in far-flung parts of Europe buy Jukes and Qashqais and Leafs which are proudly made in Sunderland. The EU referendum result has put this all in a spin.

Now, you couldn’t find a more committed pro-European than me.

But I know how many people in Sunderland voted to leave, and all sides now need to stop fighting old battles, accept the result, and concentrate on getting the best result for Sunderland.

That’s what I’m focusing on. And there’s no doubt that, despite the Brexit vote, the best result for our city is to have the closest possible trading relationship with Europe.

If you don’t believe me, believe someone who knows more than most about making cars.

This week, Nissan’s boss said that the company will withhold all investment in Sunderland until it knows the details of the deal Theresa May negotiates with other European leaders over Britain’s departure from the EU.

He’s not being vindictive – it’s just plain business sense. Why would you invest when there is the chance of a bad outcome for your business?

Theresa May might spend all her time saying “Brexit means Brexit”. But that isn’t really true. There are different kinds of Brexit.

Both the Open Britain campaign and I are arguing for a Brexit that keeps Britain in the EU’s Single Market.

It’s the biggest market in the world, and it’s the UK’s largest customer. Within it, we have totally free trade.

That means it’s as easy to sell a car in Stockholm as it is to sell it in Sunderland.

And you don’t need to be an EU country to be part of it either – Iceland and Norway are both members.

The alternative would be a ‘hard Brexit’. This would mean leaving the Single Market, and facing huge barriers to trade with Europe.

Every Nissan made in Sunderland and sold to Europe would have a tariff of 10 per cent slapped on it – so suddenly, they would be thousands of pounds more expensive.

Nissan are a great company. But of course this could make them uncompetitive.

In those circumstances, what are the chances that they would continue to invest in Sunderland?

So let’s come together, back our brilliant Sunderland car industry, and unite behind a Brexit deal that protects Sunderland and protects jobs.

* Julie Elliott is MP for Sunderland Central and a supporter of the Open Britain campaign