Secrecy over £80million Nissan Sunderland sweetener 'must not set precedent' - Government called on to reveal Brexit payments offered to companies

The secrecy surrounding the £80million 'Brexit sweetener' offered to Nissan over its Sunderland plant must not become the norm, the Government has been told.

By Ross Robertson
Friday, 01 March, 2019, 07:23
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The head of the Treasury Select Committee has said the Government has a duty to report any offers it makes to companies concerned over the impact of Brexit.

Nicky Morgan said it appeared the Government was taking a "more interventionist approach" to keeping firms in the UK and it should reveal any inducements where taxpayers' money is involved.

The committee chairwoman made the comments after MPs looked into an offer of up to £80 million in support for Nissan to build new models at its UK plant.

Business Secretary Greg Clark made the offer in a letter to the then-head of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, in October 2016, a few months after the EU referendum.

The minister refused to make the letter public, saying there were aspects of it which were commercially confidential.

It was published this month after Nissan announced it would no longer be making the new X-Trail model at its Sunderland factory.

Ms Morgan said the lack of transparency in the Nissan case "cannot be allowed to set a precedent".

"What we are seeing potentially now is that the Government may have a more interventionist approach to keeping automotive firms here in the UK," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

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"It's understandable why we would want to keep those firms - they employ a lot people, obviously it works very well for the areas of the country that they are in.

"Then, actually, if there is finance being offered, then that should be disclosed to the UK Parliament. At the end of the day, it is taxpayers' money."

It has emerged that the details of the offer had been made public, although only on a little-known European Commission website.

Ms Morgan acknowledged there may be a commercial case for not revealing details of offers immediately or when discussions are ongoing.

"But when publication is, as we found out, made via an EU website, then I think the arguments about commercial sensitivity fall away," she said.

"It wasn't really down to the company to decide when things stop being commercially sensitive; it should be done in conjunction with Government, and there should always be, really, a bias towards more transparency."

A Business Department spokesman said: "As Business Secretary Greg Clark said during his appearance before the BEIS Select Committee in December 2016, there were aspects of the letter to Nissan that were commercially confidential. As soon as those concerns were reduced, the letter was published without delay.

"All proposals are independently assessed by the Industrial Development Advisory Board, subject to UK and EU rules, and then published on the EC Transparency website."