No deal Brexit threat prompts Vauxhall owners to threaten UK departure

Unite has reiterated its call to the government to take a no deal Brexit off the table after Vauxhall chief executive Carlos Tavares warned the car firm may pull out of the UK.

A sign on a low wall prevent people from falling off a cliff.

Tavares warned that his firm PSA, which owns Vauxhall, will switch production of the Vauxhall Astra and Opel Astra from its Ellesmere Port site to a plant in southern Europe if Brexit makes its UK operations unprofitable.

“I would prefer to put it [the Astra car] in Ellesmere Port but if the conditions are bad and I cannot make it profitable, then I have to protect the rest of the company and I will not do it,” Tavares told the Financial Times.

“We need visibility on customs for parts coming from continental Europe or from the rest of the world, and we need visibility on the customs for cars coming out of the UK to continental Europe. Those are the only things we need – everything else we’ll take care of,” he added.

The PSA Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port employs about 1,000 people – all those jobs would be at risk if production of the Astra were to be moved, which could lead to the closure of the plant.

PSA announced in June that it would produce the next generation Astra model at the Ellesmere Port plant and at another plant in Germany, but Tavares warned at the time that this was contingent on getting a good Brexit deal through.

This is the first time, however, that Tavares has revealed that the firm has a specific alternative site in mind if a cliff-edge Brexit prompts the company to move production to mainland Europe.

Tavares’ latest warnings over a no deal Brexit comes just as an auto industry trade body said that a no deal Brexit, which has become significantly more likely under the leadership of new prime minister Boris Johnson, would be disastrous for UK car manufacturing.

‘Existential threat’ to UK automotive

In a letter to Johnson, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) chief executive Mike Hawes wrote that a no deal Brexit would present “an existential threat” to the car industry.

“We are highly integrated with Europe, and a no-deal Brexit would result in huge tariff costs and disruption that would threaten production, as well as further undermining international investors’ confidence in the UK,” he told Boris Johnson in his letter. “We need a deal with the EU that secures frictionless and tariff free trade. No-deal Brexit is simply not an option.”

Unite regional officer John Cooper told the BBC’s World at One this afternoon that while Tavares’ announcement today has made workers’ “worry and concern even greater” he vowed that Unite is “not going to stand still and let [ending production at Ellesmere Port] happen”.

Cooper highlighted that while the threat of no deal Brexit is a very real problem for car companies, he said that it cannot be used as an excuse to destroy jobs.

“Our message to Carlos Tavares and any other car company is – if they want to sell cars in the fifth biggest market in the world for automotive, they better start thinking about maintaining a footprint here therefore building cars here,” he said.

“We’ve got  a committed workforce here; we’ve got  a union that’s second to none that’s made it quite clear the lunacy of a no deal Brexit and the lunatics who are leading us down that role.”

‘These jobs matter’

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner agreed.

“Vauxhall is great British brand with a fantastic, efficient workforce,” he said. “Unite has been in positive discussions with PSA about a new vehicle agreement and securing new models for Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant.

“All that hard work is now hanging by a thread as Boris Johnson and his government of hard Brexiteers play no deal roulette with the livelihoods of thousands of Vauxhall workers and their colleagues in the supply chain,” he added.

“A no deal Brexit, or a deal that throws up barriers and tariffs would be catastrophic for Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port workers and the UK car industry and make plants inefficient, components less attractive and cars built in the UK more expensive for export.”

But Turner warned that Unite would not allow PSA Group to “walk away from making cars in the UK” as he called for the government to meet with the union “to help us secure the future of both Vauxhall Ellesmere Port and our ‘jewel in the crown’ automotive sector”.

“These jobs matter and once they go they are gone forever slamming the door on the ability of future generations to prosper from decent well paid work,” he added. “Boris Johnson and his team need to come to Ellesmere Port and tell this talented workforce directly that they will not send them to the dole queue.

“It is imperative for the future of the livelihoods of thousands of people who depend on Vauxhall Ellesmere Port that a no deal Brexit is taken off the table and a deal reached with the European Union that secures frictionless trade and tariff free access.”

The latest threat from Vauxhall comes just days after Unite manufacturing reps lobbied MPs last week (July 24) urging them to take a no deal Brexit off the table to save people’s jobs and communities.