Business and union leaders have told Ministers that a failure to reach a Brexit deal would be disastrous for the North East automotive sector and the Nissan plant at Sunderland.
The UK and the European Union agreed at the weekend to “work intensively” to resolve differences in trade talks, following discussions between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
But Mr Johnson has set the deadline of the EU Council meeting on October 15 for securing a deal – only 12 days away – and there are fears that a no-deal Brexit is still on the cards.
That fear has prompted the North East England Chamber of Commerce to write to Mr Johnson, saying that leaving the EU without a deal at the end of the year “would be disastrous for UK businesses”.
At the same time, the Unite union – which represents some workers at Nissan and a number of other automotive firms in the region – has called on Ministers to ensure that the automotive industry is not damaged by what it calls a ‘no deal car crash’.
The interventions come as the UK and the EU say there are “significant gaps” and have tasked chief negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier with intensifying the talks.
In the Chamber’s letter to Mr Johnson, chief executive James Ramsbotham highlights how the North East’s strong trading relationship with Europe “puts the region in an especially vulnerable position” if a trade deal can’t be reached.
He says: “The North East automotive and manufacturing sectors, which support tens of thousands of jobs in the region, are especially exposed to the anticipated impacts of ending transition without a replacement agreement.
“To take one significant example, one of the main focuses of a large automotive plant in the North East is coordinating the arrival of automotive components to the facility and then final assembly of automobiles. Many businesses are already part of well-established ‘just-in-time’ supply chains spanning multiple countries, where components arrive at the facility from both domestic and international suppliers only hours before assembly.
“As has been proclaimed by Government, leaving the European Single Market and Customs Union without a deal will result in significant delays at the border due to the increased number of required customs checks and declarations. This will jeopardise the viability of these supply chains and the many thousands of jobs that depend upon them.”
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He adds: “The Conservative Party was returned to power in 2019 on a pledge to level up regions such as the North East. In our region, international trade currently rests on the strong performance of a relatively small number of firms.
“If the Government is serious about achieving its aims, one way in which levelling up and trade policy could be aligned would be to pursue the expansion of the North East export base and getting more companies exporting for the first time. Ensuring that North East companies have access to the world’s largest single market, providing financial support for first time exporters along with matching future free trade agreements with regional economic strengths would be the best way to achieve this.”
Meanwhile, Unite has launched its Get a Deal campaign, which is calling on MPs to put pressure on Ministers to get a deal that includes the needs of the car industry.
Unite national officer for automotive industries Steve Bush said: “The Get a Deal campaign is aimed at the public putting pressure on MPs to get a deal that strongly safeguards the interests of the automotive sector and its supply chain.
“We are particularly targeting Tory MPs in ‘red wall’ seats where many car workers and their families live. Without those car plants working smoothly and at full capacity, hopes of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda for the UK’s most disadvantaged regions will disappear as the dole queues lengthen.”