Carmaker taciturn on reports about Sunderland plant, as fears grow over Brexit impact
Nissan has refused to comment on reports that it is abandoning plans to build a new model of one of its flagship vehicles at its Sunderland plant.
The Japanese car manufacturer said in 2016 it would be building the new version of the X-Trail SUV at the factory along with its next-generation Qashqai, prompting claims that Nissan and the government had struck a “sweetheart deal” to protect the company from any post-Brexit EU tariff wall.
A Nissan spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on rumour and speculation.” However, she would not be drawn on the accuracy of reports on Sky News that the Japanese firm will announce plans to move production elsewhere. The X-Trail is currently produced solely in Japan.
Bridget Phillipson, the Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said: “If confirmed, this would represent deeply troubling news for the north-east economy. So many jobs and livelihoods depend on Nissan’s success.”
The company’s reported decision is likely to raise new concerns about the economic impact of Brexit, particularly for deprived parts of the country – less than eight weeks before the UK is due to leave the European Union – with some global companies appearing reluctant to make further investment.
Nissan employs about 6,700 staff at the Sunderland plant, the company’s biggest European plant, producing some 2,000 cars a day. It has been active since 1986 and is Britain’s largest car factory, making it one of the region’s key employers. However, since the plans were reportedly linked to greater investment, the move is not expected to significantly impact jobs.
Carlos Ghosn, the company’s former chairman, previously said Nissan would not make further investments when it did not know what Britain’s future trading arrangements would be, and that if leaving the EU significantly raised costs and trade barriers, Nissan would consider reducing its British operations.
Sunderland voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union in 2016. In October, the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said Nissan was “not going anywhere”, after the car manufacturer said a hard Brexit could have serious implications for the site.
The reports follow the announcement of a free-trade deal between the EU and Japan on Friday. The EU will reduce the 10% duties on car imports to zero by 2027, with Japan’s government estimating it could increase GDP by 1%, the BBC reported.
Nissan is part-owned by French manufacturer Renault, which had led to concerns that production could be moved to France to avoid tariffs that might be introduced on exports to the EU if the UK leaves the single market without a deal.
Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing, said: “It is beyond disappointing that our members are hearing about their futures and the holding-back of planned investments in Sunderland through media reports and not directly from the company.
“These rumours are disturbing and will cause the workforce to have a very anxious weekend, even though production of the X-Trail would have necessitated additional jobs on site.
“We are working hard to establish the truth behind current speculation and will be meeting with the company on Monday morning to establish both the facts and how such news has been released without a discussion with the union.”