Aerospace giant Airbus threatened to pull its UK investments if Britain walks away from the European Union without a deal, ramping up the pressure on prime minister Theresa May as she tries to deliver a Brexit that won’t ruin the country’s economy.
In the strongest warning yet from a major company, Airbus said an exodus from the customs union and single market without a transition agreement would be “catastrophic .” If such a situation were to arise, Airbus, which employs 14,000 people and supports another 110,000 jobs in its supply chain in Britain, said it would have to reconsider investments in the UK and “its long-term footprint.”
“We have sought to highlight our concerns over the past 12 months, without success. Far from Project Fear, this is a dawning reality for Airbus. Put simply, a No Deal scenario directly threatens Airbus’ future in the UK,” said Chief Operating Officer Tom Williams. It follows comments by other business leaders that greater clarity was needed by the government, urging it to take decisions.
Downing Street insisted the government had not brushed off concerns by Airbus about Brexit. "Airbus were in Downing Street with the PM in April as part of an aerospace round table," a spokesman said.
"(Business Secretary) Greg Clark spoke to them earlier this week and officials will speak to them today so we are listening to their concerns. There is an open dialogue there and we continue to talk to them."
The statements increase the pressure on Mrs May who has attempted to keep post-Brexit trade as smooth as possible, but had been knocked back. The EU has consistently warned companies of the need to prepare for the worst.
While Airbus still said a Brexit withdrawal agreement was preferable to a no-deal, it warned the current planned transition, which ends in December 2020, was not long enough.
It “is too short for the EU and UK Governments to agree the outstanding issues, and too short for Airbus to implement the required changes with its extensive supply chain,” an Airbus statement said.
“In any scenario, Brexit has severe negative consequences for the UK aerospace industry and Airbus in particular. Therefore, immediate mitigation measures would need to be accelerated,” added Mr Williams.
Brexit negotiation terms continue to hit hurdles over a number of issues, particularly on how to keep an open land border with Ireland while freeing Britain up to strike its own trade deals. Mrs May heads to Brussels later this month for a summit intended to be a defining moment in the negotiations and the last gathering of leaders before the divorce deal is signed off in October. Instead, a lack of progress and the chances of a breakdown are likely to be the main point of discussion.
Jaguar Land Rover and Uniliver are just two of the other large companies beginning to move production and headquarters from the UK.