UK Government is committed to a Brexit deal that guarantees 'low tariff, low friction trading' for Nissan and other UK firms, says Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom

The Government is committed to striking a Brexit deal with the EU that suits both sides and allows them to continue to trade openly with each other, says Andrea Leadsom.

Thursday, 6th February 2020, 8:38 pm
Updated Friday, 7th February 2020, 3:28 pm

Speaking on a visit to Rolls-Royce’s Washington plant today, Thursday, February 6, where she opened a new £40million extension to the high-technology aerospace factory, the Business Secretary said the UK would not be seeking to diverge from EU rules and regulations simply for the sake of it.

The site makes high-precision discs that hold fan blades and turbine blades in place while powering Rolls-Royce engines.

Ms Leadsom opened the new Fleet Support Facility, a dedicated building designed for work on discs for specific civil and defence aero engines such as the Trent 500, Trent 800 and other projects. The extension adds to the existing manufacturing facility that makes discs at a higher volume for other Trent engines.

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She also found time to make a private visit to Nissan’s Sunderland plant earlier in the day.

Did you discuss Brexit with Nissan?

We never use that word any more. That was something that happened. We had a fantastic tour of the facility there and then we did talk about various subjects, ranging from net zero and the UK’s ambitions and also some of the opportunities and the asks that Nissan have of Government in looking at the future trading relationship with the EU.

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business visits Rolls-Royce at Washington
Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business visits Rolls-Royce at Washington

How confident are you that you can secure a deal that keep Nissan in the North East?

We already do have a deal with the European Union and what we will be focused on is making sure that any of the challenges that are created by the elements of the future trading relationship will be overcome because it will be in the interests of both the EU and the UK that we ensure low tariff, low friction trading between our great sovereign nations.

But that’s going to be difficult. The further you move from alignment with the EU, the more friction there's bound to be. The whole basis of the single market and customs union is that they are built on complete alignment. The more divergence there is, surely the more customs checks there have to be? How can you square the circle of having increased divergence and yet frictionless trade?

What we’ve made clear is we’re not seeking divergence for its own sake and, of course, we start in a relationship where we have complete alignment and so what the UK will do is only to diverge where it makes sense from the UK’s point of view going forward.

Paul Stein, Chief Technical Officer at Rolls-Royce PLC welcomes Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business

It’s not as if we are planning some sort of big scheme to change regulations on the first of January 2021. Far from it. What we’re seeking with the EU is a good relationship that makes sense for us and for them and enables us to continue to trade openly with each other.

And what guarantees can you make for post-Brexit jobs in the North East?

Well, one of the reasons I am here is to talk to businesses about how we can continue to support them. The Government works closely with businesses like Nissan and Rolls-Royce to make sure that we are supporting research and innovation and some of the amazing work that both of them are doing that are creating jobs and opportunities in the North East. I have met with apprentices here in Rolls-Royce just now, some of the fantastic opportunities they are getting to take part in some of the most hi-tech engineering and net zero opportunities in the world.

What are you going to do to keep the North East on side and stop Labour rebuilding the Red Wall?

Well, I think the Prime Minister has set out his plan is to to follow a leveling up agenda. As he often says, we have absolutely evenly spread talent, brains, creativity right across the United Kingdom, but what we have not had is equal opportunities across the United Kingdom.

So my department is looking at areas around productivity, how we can improve productivity levels, innovation, research, investment. We will be seeking free trade deals not just with the European Union but around the world that enable more foreign direct investment but also local investment that will offer new jobs and opportunities right around the United Kingdom.

With all due respect, you’ve been in power for eight years, so why has it taken this long before you start to look at this leveling up process? Why hasn’t this been happening already?

I think it has. Nissan is producing one in five electric cars that are sold around the European Union. Rolls-Royce here is doing incredible research and innovation in green aviation and the most extraordinary advanced engineering and those things have been on a growing path over the last decade and supported by the UK Government. What the Prime Minister wants to do is look at what more we can do to ensure that we can create a level playing field right across the United Kingdom, so that we are giving equal opportunities all around the UK.

You’ve had a chance to look around the facility here. What do you think?

It’s fantastic. I have met with some brilliant apprentices who are doing both apprenticeships and degree level apprenticeships and they are all incredibly impressive young people who have got massive opportunities in these businesses.

Certainly here at Rolls-Royce, to see their level of commitment to a career here is really inspiring. I’ve also been speaking with Paul (Stein) the chief technology officer about some of the work that Rolls-Royce is doing, not just on aviation technology, and on green aviation in particular and the future for aviation development in the UK, but also about some of the other innovations coming from Rolls-Royce and their ambitions for small, modular reactors that will power the United Kingdom and the world as we move towards a net zero target by 2050.

So Rolls-Royce is at the cutting edge and it has been fantastic not just to see this facility but to formally open it on behalf of Rolls-Royce here today.