Honda confirms plan to close Swindon plant: Political reaction

February 19, 2019

Political reaction to Honda’s shock decision to close its huge Swindon plant with the loss of all 3,500 jobs has been swift – and sharply divided over whether it is linked to Brexit.

North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, whose constituency includes the plant, yesterday denied the move was linked to the UK’s upcoming departure from the EU. 

Mr Tomlinson, pictured, who supports Brexit, tweeted that, along with South Swindon MP Robert Buckland, he had spoken to the Business Secretary Greg Clark and Honda and they were clear this is based on global trends and not Brexit as all European market production will consolidate in Japan in 2021

But plenty of politicians on the ‘remain’ side of the argument claim Brexit has played a role in the decision. 

Labour shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said she was pushing the government to make a statement on what she claimed was Honda’s response to its handling of Brexit and what she described as its “less-than-supportive” Industrial Strategy relating to electric vehicles.

While acknowledging that Honda’s statement put the decision down to global trends, she added that businesses needed the confidence to invest for the long term, yet the government’s Brexit strategy – particularly its threat of allowing a no-deal departure – and its Industrial Strategy did not encourage that.

Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats and a former business secretary, said: “Brexit may or may not be officially blamed for the closure — we accept that other issues in the global economy are also a factor, But Brexit uncertainty is weighing on the company.”

Green South West MEP Molly Scott Cato said it represented a terrible day for the 3,500 workers at the Swindon plant and their families and my thoughts are with them at this worrying time.

She added: Concerns about businesses leaving the UK in the event of Brexit were expressed before the referendum and since the Brexit result. Japanese manufacturing businesses have been quite clear about the risk to their business model from leaving the Customs Union. But a decision to close a state-of-the-art factory with the sunk costs it represents is still a shocking one.

“This is the day that will be remembered as the day ‘Project Fear’ became Brexit reality, the day when the true scale of the social and economic costs of leaving the EU hit hard in the South West. A majority in Swindon voted to leave the EU based on promises that their jobs were safe. Now that we know what Brexit means in reality they, and we all, have a right to think again.

Swindon Council leader David Renard said he had spoken with the Business Secretary Greg Clark and the council would be working closely with the government and key partners to do everything it could to support all affected workers and their families.

“We are fortunate that Swindon has a strong and growing economy and I am confident the whole area will pull together to overcome and move forward from this,” he added.

The council’s  cabinet member for economic prosperity Oliver Donachie said there was a template to deal with such a situation from previous jobs losses at Honda, including setting up a task force to find new opportunities for those affected.

“I’m incredibly sensitive to the fact people have been given effectively a two-year notice period,” he said.

“But we’re going to help them. We’re going to rise to the challenge. Let’s give people some hope for the future.”

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