(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 19th Feb 2019) London, Uk – –
Denials by the North Swindon Tory MP will not save May from the burden of this decision
We told you so. That will be the reaction of Britain’s leading business groups to the news that Honda is to close its Swindon plant with the loss of about 3,500 jobs in 2022.
For at least a year, bodies such as the CBI, the EEF and the British Chambers of Commerce have been telling ministers that the uncertainty caused by Brexit would have serious consequences. The Honda announcement – with its knock-on consequences for its UK supply chain – will make the employers organisations even more insistent that a no-deal outcome should be ruled out.
Brexit was not the only factor involved. Honda production in Swindon never fully recovered from the deep global recession of 2008-09. Before the financial crisis, the plant produced 230,000 cars a year, but that is now down to 161,000. Of the three models once made in Swindon, two – the Jazz and the CR-V – have been moved elsewhere, leaving just the Civic.
Global factors have not helped either. There has been a sharp decline in demand for diesel vehicles. Japanese companies have a tendency to pull production back home when the world economy looks shaky. What’s more, Donald Trump’s threat of import tariffs on European-made cars may make the export of Swindon’s Civics to the US more expensive.
Honda’s original investment in Swindon in 1985 was motivated by a desire to have a plant inside the EU and so avoid paying the tariff – currently 10% – on imported vehicles. But that tariff will be phased out as a result of a new free trade deal between the EU and Japan which came into force at the start of this month.
Justin Tomlinson, who as Conservative MP for North Swindon represents many of the Honda workforce, said he had been told by the company and the business secretary, Greg Clark, that the decision was down to global market trends and not related to Brexit.
This, though, is overegging things. The hit to global demand was far more severe in 2008-09 than it is at present. Trump may simply be sabre-rattling. The 10% tariff on cars imported into the EU will not be fully phased out until 2027, five years after the Swindon plant is due to close. In 2022 it will still be more than 6%.
So while Honda’s decision is not simply about Brexit, uncertainty caused by Brexit played its part. Japanese policy makers – from the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, down – have been pressing for a soft Brexit ever since the referendum, initially privately but recently more openly.
Politically, therefore, the Honda decision will add to the already considerable pressure on Theresa May.
“The threat of Brexit is already having a damaging impact on investment decisions in the UK,” said Rachel Reeves, the Labour chair of the Commons business committee. “The PM now needs to rule out no deal immediately and keep us in the single market and customs union rather than risk further fatal damage to our car industry.”
By Larry Elliott