Nissan’s U-turn is the beginning of the end for Britain’s revived car industry

Japanese firm and partner Renault have dozens of plants all over the world to move production to, and they will

Sean O'Grady
Saturday 02 February 2019 20:38
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Emma Reynolds called on the Chancellor to look after manufacturing and Jaguar Land Rover post brexit

Unconfirmed as it is, the news from Nissan Sunderland could not be more portentous.

This is the beginning of the end for Britain’s revived car industry, which everyone involved did do much to build over the past 30 years.

Nissan are plainly running their operations down, model by model, investment decision by investment decision, shift by shift.

Without the new X-Trail model to bolster production numbers, it seems unlikely the Nissan Qashqai will be replaced when the time comes for a new model. Without mass production of such cars, development of the Leaf and other electric vehicles – hugely important for the future – will also be abandoned.

Nissan and partner Renault have dozens of plants all over the world to move production to, and they will.

Forget Carlos Ghosn, the diesel backlash or anything else. Such storms come and go.

Brexit is to blame, overwhelmingly, because so much of Nissan’s Sunderland output goes to the EU.

The government’s reassuring letter to Nissan of two years ago, still secret, was, so I have heard, pretty woolly – more of a political declaration than a legally binding guarantee of support. Either way, it is not enough.

The UK has gone from being securely inside the customs union and single market to an unstable, unreliable, chaotic joke of a place to do business. No one is obliged to make cars, or anything else, here. Why would you?

Already the lack of investment, down 90 per cent, under Brexit has placed every car works at a disadvantage, reducing productivity and quality as British plants, managers and workers compete for business, especially against emerging new centres inside the EU such as Slovakia.

Land Rover has just transferred all Discovery production there.

More will follow Nissan in the great rundown – BMW, Mini, Toyota, Honda, Peugeot (Vauxhall): all will be demolished by, say, 2029. Where they now build Civics and Mini Coopers, there’ll be branches of Lidl and Aldi.

All that will remain are nostalgic names on the new housing estates – Qashqai Close, Avensis Lane, Cooper Drive. It’s what happened in Coventry and Birmingham the last time we screwed up.

Nissan deal 'won't persuade other companies to invest in UK’

Millions of jobs, long term, will be lost – jobs that exist now, but also new ones as our excellent products conquer fast-growing markets around the world. EU membership never stopped us selling Range Rovers to Russia or Minis to China. But leaving it will certainly destroy our capacity to build them. Export earnings, tax revenues, property values – all will be hit, locally and nationally.

Project fear? It feels pretty real. When the great recession of the 2020s takes hold, it certainly will be a fearful affair. Of course Boris and Arron and Jacob won’t be applying for universal credit, but plenty of families in Sunderland, in Oxford, Swindon, Derbyshire, Deeside and Ellesmere Port will when the skilled jobs disappear. Some may not know work again.

It is impossible to hear this news without recalling how Sunderland delivered such an unexpectedly strong Leave vote in the 2016 Referendum. The voting was live on TV, the earliest result, the moment when John Curtice said David Cameron should put the champagne back on ice.

I don’t know what kind of Brexit Sunderland voted for. Surely not this?

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