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Nissan decision worrying

Stephen Oreilly

PRO and anti-Brexit politicians have this weekend been arguing over whether a decision by Nissan not to proceed with the building of a new model in Sunderland can be traced back to the result of the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union.

Yesterday a letter sent by the company to employees said that the decision had been taken for "business reasons" but pointedly went on to state that "clearly the uncertainty around the UK's future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future".

Nissan employs 7,000 in the area and it is reckoned that approximately 20,000 more are involved in the supply chain, so by any standards this is a worrying development for those people and for the region as a whole.

As far back as July 2016 the British government was speaking publicly about the support it could give to foreign car producers to keep these major employers in the country after Brexit, while staying within World Trade Organisation rules.

Add to this the intervention of the British prime minister by inviting company president Carlos Ghosn to Downing Street and it shows the remarkable effort Theresa May and her government put into keeping the Japanese company reassured.

David Davis, then Brexit secretary. said: "We could do a great deal to support the industry if we wanted to. Research support, investment tax breaks, lower vehicle taxes – there are a whole range of possibilities to protect the industry."

Even though those comments did not specifically mention Nissan, they were made at the time the Japanese company made a commitment that the X-Trail 4x4 would be built in Sunderland, the same model that is now going to be built in Japan.

The north-east of England has had a notoriously difficult time in attracting new employers to the area. The news that what was previously thought of as a guaranteed source of work has now been lost will come as a sore blow.

In 2016 it was thought that the area would vote for Brexit but the comparative landslide for leaving was one of the first indicators that the remain campaign was in serious trouble.

It is therefore ironic that this area has been hit with such a blow, despite the efforts of the British government to keep Nissan on board.

While the pro and anti-Brexiteers will continue to argue the significance of the Nissan decision there must be considerable worry that this might set a worrying trend in the weeks and months ahead.

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