The chief executive of the UK’s biggest car maker has added to fears over the economic consequences of an exit from the European Union, by warning it would force a re-evaluation of the company’s presence in this country.
Carlos Ghosn – the head of Nissan, whose plant in Sunderland employs 6,500 workers – said a vote by the UK to leave the EU would require the Japanese com- pany to “reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future”.
With David Cameron promising to hold a referendum on EU membership after the next General Election, Mr Ghosn’s warning is the latest note of caution from the business world over the possibility of an exit. The investment banking giant Goldman Sachs and the business lobby group CBI are among those who have also recently spoken out about such a move.
Mr Ghosn, who was in the UK to launch Nissan’s new Qashqai model, said it was not possible to “consider the UK independently of its environment. If the UK’s part of Europe, it’s a completely different situation if the UK’s not part of Europe”.
He told the BBC he was “not worried about Sunderland. Sunderland is a very competitive plant, it’s a very productive plant and it’s a European plant based in the UK”. Mr Ghosn also said he did not think a departure from the EU was the “most probable scenario”.
Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP for the North-east, said Mr Ghosn’s warning was “one we cannot afford to ignore”, adding that Nissan’s “importance to the North-east can hardly be overstated.”
In September, Michael Sherwood and Richard Gnodde, the co-chief executives of Goldman Sachs International, warned that European banks will exit London “in very short order” if the UK does leave, and that they would have to look at moving a significant number of staff.
The employers’ group the CBI has urged the UK to not leave the EU, with director-general John Cridland saying on Monday that “British business is unequivocal; the single market is fundamental to our future”. However, he did add that the EU was “not perfect and there is growing unease about the creeping extension of EU authority. Europe has to become more open, competitive and outward looking”.
In contrast, the former CBI director-general and ex-trade minister, Lord Jones of Birmingham, this week attacked the EU as a “job destroyer”, writing in The Times that Britain must be prepared to quit in order to be “a globally competitive economy worthy of the name”.
Mr Cameron has said he wants the UK to stay in the EU, but only after changes are made to its terms of membership.