Government ‘gambling’ with Sunderland’s future says MP after Nissan boss reveals post-Brexit ‘review’ of car plant

Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Nissan
Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Nissan

Nissan will review the competitiveness of its car plant in Sunderland once the final outcome of Brexit negotiations becomes clear, the Japanese company's chief executive has said.

The car manufacturer announced in October that it was investing in production of new Qashqai and X-Trail models at Sunderland after receiving Government assurances that EU withdrawal would not affect the plant's competitiveness.

Speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, chief executive Carlos Ghosn said the company trusted Prime Minister Theresa May's assurance, but added that Nissan would want to "re-evaluate the situation" once the final deal is concluded.

According to the Reuters news agency, Mr Ghosn said: "Obviously when the package comes, you are going to have to re-evaluate the situation, and say, `Okay, is the competitiveness of your plant preserved or not?'

"We are going to have to make decisions on investment within the next two to three years, so obviously the faster the Brexit results come, the better it is."

The Wall Street Journal reported him as adding: "In the meantime, we are going to continue to run Sunderland with the assumption that Sunderland will remain competitive no matter what is the outcome of Brexit."

And he told French TV channel BFM Business: "When (Mrs May) says `We will preserve the competitiveness of Sunderland after Brexit', we trust her."

Earlier this week, Mr Ghosn said that Mrs May's announcement that she would take the UK out of the European single market and seek a comprehensive free trade agreement with the remaining EU was "not a surprise" and "does not change the decision" to continue investing in Sunderland.

The Government has denied it offered a "sweetheart deal" to Nissan to secure the future of the Sunderland plant - which makes one in three of all cars manufactured in the UK - but has so far resisted calls to publish the "letter of comfort" sent by Business Secretary Greg Clark.

Following Mr Ghosn’s comments, Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott said: “Any questions at all about the future of Nissan in Sunderland potentially threatens thousands of jobs in my constituency and across the North East.

“What this news shows is that the Prime Minister’s speech on Tuesday, saying that Britain will leave the Single Market and Customs Union, was a game-changer.

“It will have a real impact on UK manufacturing, putting peoples’ livelihoods at risk. The Government are gambling with the futures of the people of Sunderland.

“The Prime Minister’s decision was a political choice, not an inevitability. She needs to go back to the drawing board and do what is best for Sunderland and for our whole car industry – staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union.”