Unite: PM must face down hard Brexiteers after car manufacturers sound alarm over govt’s lack of progress in EU talks

Unite is demanding Theresa May face down the hard Brexiteers in her cabinet after UK car manufacturers warned of severe disruptions to their operations without a customs deal and revealed industry investment in Britain has fallen by half over the past year.

The intervention by Britain’s car manufacturing body followed on the heels of similar warnings from Airbus and Seimens, as well as individual car firms such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan; who are increasingly alarmed that the “just-in-time” supply chains that are vital to their businesses will grind to a halt either because the UK crashes out of the EU or fails to strike a deal that allows frictionless trade.

The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) today (June 26) reported that investment has plummeted to £347.3m – just half of the sum announced during the same period last year.

SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes said: “There is growing frustration in global boardrooms at the slow pace of negotiations. The current position, with conflicting messages and red lines goes directly against the interests of the UK automotive sector which has thrived on single market and customs union membership.

“There is no Brexit dividend for our industry, particularly in what is an increasingly hostile and protectionist global trading environment. Our message to government is that until it can demonstrate exactly how a new model for customs and trade with the EU can replicate the benefits we currently enjoy, don’t change it.”

Hawes’ comments come after foreign business leaders told the government to urgently avoid a disorderly Brexit or risk £100bn worth of trade. The government has been plagued by infighting during the negotiations, with a cabal of extreme eurosceptic MPs blocking progress.

Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “Unite has been warning for two years that UK manufacturing is extremely vulnerable. This is particularly true of the auto-industry because of the exposure of ‘just-in-time’ supply chains, where parts often cross back and forth from the EU to Britain multiple times. The government risks wrecking the entire industry if this goes wrong. Make no mistake: Reverting to WTO rules under a hard Brexit could see car plants badly damaged.

“Car companies and firms along the supply chain are not making investments because they don’t know which way Brexit is going to go. Compounding the problems is the issue of Trump’s tariffs, which means further problems for firms like Jaguar Landrover who are big exporters to the US. The idea, posited by hard right Conservative MPs, that the car industry can simply sell more cars in the US is laughable at best and deeply cynical at worst.

“In private discussions with ministers who have experience of manufacturing industries there’s no difference of opinion with Unite in terms of the damage being done by the hard Brexiteers in the Tory party, who are determined to see a cliff edge exit. The truth is that the Tories on the hard right of the party simply do not care about manufacturing.

“You need look no further than Boris Johnson to illustrate this fact: As a foreign secretary he is supposed to be promoting British industry abroad but instead has been caught saying ‘f**k business’. It’s an absolute disgrace and he needs sacking. While Unite is never uncritical of business, these are people’s jobs and livelihoods we’re talking about.

“It’s time for May to stand up to Johnson and other the hard Brexiteers in her party before they take a wrecking ball to our economy. The government should be defending UK manufacturing, including auto, aerospace, engineering and science and listening to the voice of working people who rely on manufacturing not just for their own families but their whole communities.”