27 February 2019
Recent news about the closure of Honda’s plant in Swindon is deeply concerning. The plant employs 3,500 people, a total which is likely to include a number of Oxford residents given our proximity to Swindon.
While Honda executives argued that Brexit was not the prime motivator for their decision, it looks likely that it played a part. The Unite trade union, which represents workers at the plant, stated that “[w]hile Brexit is not mentioned by the company… we believe that the uncertainty that the Tory government has created by its inept and rigid handling of the Brexit negotiations lurks in the background”. Indeed, the Conservatives’ claim that the closure was partly due to a new EU-Japan trade deal lacks credibility. The process of concluding the Japan deal was a long one, unlike what seems to have been a quick decision from Honda. In addition, our government has made clear that it won’t be able to implement the deal with Japan before the intended Brexit day- so it hardly explains the current decision.
Only a few weeks ago, I attended an event in Swindon at which Honda representatives were present and set out their concerns about the current process. These concerns chimed with many others I have heard, from representatives of all the major car manufacturers in the UK. The complex supply chains which have come to be the norm in British automotive production rely on quick passage of parts and completed cars across borders, as well as the availability of qualified staff from across the EU.
This is nowhere more the case than at our excellent BMW Cowley facility. Production there is so sophisticated that every single car is made to match for a specific customer, from the moment that it begins its journey through the plant. Hold-ups in the process would cause major headaches- hence of course the decision, previously covered at length in the Oxford Mail, to bring forward the plant’s annual shutdown.
The current government has, finally, started to take on board some of industry’s concerns. Today I will be speaking in Parliament to urge that new arrangements for ‘type approval’ of cars would be immediately put in place, in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Every car must have its ‘type’ approved before it can be marketed and sold; and current type approval arrangements rely on EU mechanisms. It has taken a long time for the new arrangements to be sorted out by government, but hopefully they will be in place very soon.
Unfortunately however it is exactly these kinds of technical issues that those who recklessly promote ‘no deal’ fail to acknowledge. From the approval of types of cars, to arrangements for regulating chemicals; from rules on marketing financial products to arrangements for EU citizens and Brits in the EU- so much is still up in the air, with only a few weeks left to go.
Following yet another delay in the vote on Theresa May’s deal announced last Sunday, it is more important than ever that the cliff-edge chaos of no deal is stopped. I will certainly be doing all I can to prevent it.