Theresa May failed to offer reassurances to Sunderland’s Nissan workers as she outlined her vision for Brexit.
The Japanese car giant sparked fears over its long-term future on Wearside last week, when it announced it was suspending investment in Sunderland pending reassurances about the financial implications of quitting the EU.
Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said: “If there are tax barriers being established on cars, you have to have a commitment for carmakers who export to Europe that there is some kind of compensation,” and told the BBC the plant’s competitiveness would be hit if Britain was left dealing with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules, rather than as part of the Single Market.
But in her keynote speech to close the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, the Prime Minister re-emphasised the Government’s commitment to immigration control, a move which is likely to reduce the chances of the UK retaining its membership of the Single Market.
The PM did mention the automotive sector as one of the industries which would be key to the Government’s new industrial strategy - but warned details of Brexit negotiations would be thin on the ground until a deal for the UK to leave the EU was complete.
“We will identify these sectors of the economy - financial services, life sciences, tech, aerospace, car manufacturing, creative industries and others - that are of strategic importance to our economy and do everything we can to encourage, develop and support them,” she said.
“I want it to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within the single market - and let European businesses do the same here.
“But let’s state one thing loud and clear: we are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again. And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen.
“We are leaving to become, once more, a fully sovereign and independent country - and the deal is going to have to work for Britain.”
The Prime Minister said any agreement would have to include control of the UK’s borders - free movement of workers is a key principle of the Single Market.
She reiterated her commitment to triggering Article 50, the formal declaration that the UK is withdrawing, ‘no later than the end of March’ and to introduce a Great Repeal Bill in the next parliamentary session to get rid of the European Communities Act. “It is, of course, too early to say exactly what agreement we will reach with the EU. It is going to be a tough negotiation,” said Mrs May.
“It will require some give and take. And while there will always be pressure to give a running commentary, it will not be in our national interest to do so.”