City leaders have called on Prime Minister Theresa May to produce a clear idea of any help the Government can give to Sunderland employer Nissan, which has said it will delay investment plans following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
Wearside MPs and business chiefs have expressed concern after the car giant’s chief executive Carlos Ghosn said the Sunderland plant would lose competitiveness if Britain was left dealing with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules – rather than as part of the Single Market – which would effectively add 10% to the cost of a UK-built model.
The plant’s future could ‘without any doubt’ be harmed unless there was a way to overcome the extra cost, he said.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and fellow senior Tories have insisted Britain can maintain free trade with the European Union and still exercise control over immigration after Brexit – despite fresh warnings that it would be “impossible”.
The UK voted to leave the EU in June, with more than 61% of voters in Sunderland in favour of an exit.
In an Echo online poll this week we asked readers if they were now concerned about Nissan’s future.
And out of nearly 4,000 votes, 70% admitted they were.
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson, whose constituency the Nissan factory is in, has criticised Mrs May for her “empty slogans” when asked on what plans there are following the Brexit vote.
“Nissan is a vital employer here in Sunderland, but also to the wider North East region and the country as a whole,” said Mrs Hodgson.
“The hesitations from Theresa May’s Government are not filling anyone with confidence about our future outside of the EU, and this recent announcement by Nissan is case in point of that fact.
“We have had a summer where Theresa May and her three Brexiteer Secretaries of State have failed to make any solid progress on what leaving the EU will mean for the UK and have continued to fall back on their line of ‘Brexit means Brexit’.
“Instead of these empty slogans, what we need is a plan that will give the people and businesses alike the confidence that the UK will thrive outside of the EU so as not to impact people’s jobs and livelihoods.”
Sunderland Central’s Julie Elliott said: “In the time leading up to the referendum, the Remain campaign warned of the risks Brexit represented for British workers.
“We were accused of scaremongering but today has shown the post-referendum reality facing companies like Nissan.
“Although I voted Remain, I entirely accept the referendum result.
“It is now my responsibility to put pressure on the Government to act to secure the future of companies like Nissan in Sunderland.
“A number of solutions are possible but the bottom line is the Government need to get round the negotiating table immediately to remove the threat of 10% tariffs on all cars sold to continental Europe.”
Fellow Labour MP Bridget Phillipson said: “Mr Ghosn’s comments on Nissan’s future investment in Sunderland were alarming.
“Making companies like Nissan wait around for more clarity is hugely risky for the thousands of people in our area whose jobs are on the line.
“But the prime minister has yet to elaborate on the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ platitude.
“Investment from companies such as Nissan is vital to our local economy.
“I urge ministers to offer businesses the assurances they need that the government will press for full access to the Single Market, and will do all they can to protect the jobs and livelihoods that depend on it.”
Sunderland’s only Liberal Democrat councillor Niall Hodson argued that lack of business security over Brexit continues to be a concern for firms.
“Nissan is right to be seeking clarification from the Government – in fact we all should, regardless of how we voted in the EU Referendum,” he said.
“Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, but this meaningless phrase doesn’t offer any security to businesses, let alone £350million a week extra for the NHS, or a points-based immigration system.
“Businesses, like voters, are being ignored as the Conservatives spout slogans and fight among themselves.
“However we should be concerned by the noises coming from Japan, America, and countries in the EU: they have given a much clearer picture of what Brexit means than Theresa May.
“Seeking to keep its businesses in Britain, Japan is asking for the same assurances about Brexit as the British public: will we remain part of the single market?
“Will there be free movement for workers?
“The departure of Nissan would be devastating for Sunderland; the Conservatives should not be running the risk by failing to explain, for voters and businesses, what Brexit will involve.”
Conservative leader on Sunderland City Council Councillor Peter Wood said: “It is essential that trade and tariff agreements with the EU are negotiated swiftly so that companies such as Nissan have certainty with regards to their future investment which is so important to the local economy.”
And North East MEP Jonathan Arnott, of UKIP, said: “The longer it takes for us to start negotiating a deal with the European Union, the longer the current uncertainly will continue.
“It is not in the interests of the European Union to put tariffs on British-made cars, because then European car manufacturers would be forced to pay tariffs when they sell their cars to us.
“Nobody expects a tariff regime to be imposed, and to alleviate Nissan’s concerns – and indeed, the concerns of the big German car manufacturers – it’s important to get a deal done with the European Union as quickly as possible.”