Fears Toyota could leave Derbyshire after boss's comments about Brexit

This post first appeared on Derby Telegraph. Read the original article.

Fears Toyota might shift production out of the UK are growing after a company executive warned the Government's Brexit position could jeopardise a planned upgrade of its Burnaston factory.

In March, the car-maker announced plans to invest £240 million in its Derbyshire plant at Burnaston after apparently receiving written assurances from the Government that car exports from Britain would not attract duty.

But executive vice president Didier Leroy said there had been a shift in the Government's position and the lack of clarity could leave a "big question mark" over its future spending in the UK.

Pro-EU Lib Dem MP Tom Brake said he was deeply troubled by Mr Leroy’s comments and that it was clear jobs at the Burnaston factory – where about 2,500 people are employed – were under threat.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna said Mr Leroy's comments showed that Theresa May should ditch her plans to leave the single market and customs union.

The majority of cars made at Burnaston are exported

The majority of cars made at Burnaston are exported

When Toyota announced plans to invest £240 million in its Burnaston plant, the car giant called for continued tariff- and barrier-free access between the UK and Europe.

Mr Leroy expressed his concerns about the Government's approach to Brexit in an interview with Reuters at the Frankfurt car show.

"A few months ago the Government was saying 'we're sure we'll be able to negotiate (a deal) without any trade tax,'" he said. "They are not saying that any more."

He added: "It's clear that, if we have to wait two to three more years to have clarity on this topic, we will have a big question mark about our future investment in the country."

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Mr Leroy, Toyota's top foreign executive, said the company could not wait indefinitely before deciding whether to build a new model at the site after production of the ageing Avensis model ends. Burnaston also builds the smaller Auris.

"We cannot take this kind of decision before we have clarity on the future trade relationship," said Mr Leroy.

"We will not close the plant tomorrow morning, but if in two to three years we have to decide some future investments, of course the key point will be the competitiveness of this plant in future."

Mr Umunna, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign pushing for continued close ties with Brussels, said: "Toyota employs thousands of people in this country and it is extremely worrying that they are becoming increasingly exasperated with the Government's shambolic attitude to negotiations.

"Ministers used to promise exporters that, after Brexit, they would enjoy the 'exact same benefits' as single market and customs union membership.

"But as the Brexit talks flounder and reality starts to bite, they're facing up to the fact that their plans for a destructive hard Brexit will make us less attractive to investors and damage our economy."

Mr Brake, also a Pro-EU MP, added: "The Conservatives are leading us to a car-crash Brexit. Ministers must come before the House to explain this dramatic and worrying change of heart from Toyota.

"We must see the written assurances ministers first gave the car company, and we must hear whether ministers can still assure manufacturers that Britain will continue to enjoy full and unfettered access to the single market and customs union post-Brexit.

"These are real jobs and real homes of real people under threat because ministers still don't have a coherent negotiating position.

"If major companies such as Toyota are worried, the British people should be worried. That is why the Liberal Democrats, alone among the major parties, will fight to the very last ditch to stay in the single market and customs union."

An aerial view of Toyota's Burnaston factory pictured in 2009

An aerial view of Toyota's Burnaston factory pictured in 2009

When Toyota announced its investment in March, president and chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe Johan van Zyl warned: "Continued tariff and barrier-free market access between the UK and Europe that is predictable and uncomplicated will be vital for future success."

In response to Mr Leroy’s comments, a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: "Our automotive sector is one of the most productive in the world and Toyota's decision in March to invest £240 million upgrading its Burnaston plant in Derby, with £21 million of additional Government support, was a further demonstration of this.

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"The Government has been clear that we believe an interim period is in the interests of both the UK and the EU, providing certainty to businesses and citizens, and ensuring we avoid any cliff-edge as we move to our future partnership.

"We want the UK to have the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade in goods and services with our European neighbours and we are confident that we can achieve this aim."