Boris Johnson warned that Vauxhall Astra production in UK depends on a good Brexit deal

Boris Johnson warned that Vauxhall Astra production in UK depends on a good Brexit deal
Boris Johnson warned that Vauxhall Astra production in UK depends on a good Brexit deal

The French manufacturer of the Vauxhall Astra has fired a shot across the bows of Boris Johnson by warning that future UK production is conditional on a good Brexit deal.

Their statement that plans to build the new model of the car in Ellsmere Port are dependent on the UK avoiding No Deal came just hours after the Japanese foreign minister made similar warnings.

Taro Kono said that 1,000 Japanese companies in the UK – including car manufacturers – would be negatively impacted by No Deal.

Mr Johnson has pledged to take the UK out of the EU “do or die” by October 31 should he become Prime Minister and has not ruled out doing so without a deal.

Cars are pictured in the the car park at Vauxhall’s production plant in Ellesmere Port, in Cheshire, north-west England (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Brexit warning

Mr Konon urged the leadership candidates to “take good care” of the 1,000 Japanese companies operating in the UK when they enter Downing Street.

“We are very concerned with this no-deal Brexit,” he told the BBC. “That would have a very negative impact on their operation.

Mr Kono said he was particularly worried about car companies relying on just-in-time supply chains, which currently have a “very smooth operation” importing and exporting to central Europe but may grind to a halt with no deal.

“If they have to go through actual customs inspections physically those operations may not be able to continue,” he said.

“Some companies already start moving their operation to other places in Europe…

“Please no no-deal Brexit.”

Workers walk past cars at Vauxhall’s production plant in Ellesmere Port (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Next generation Astra

The French owners of Vauxhall, Groupe PSA, which also makes Peugeot and Citroen cars, said it wants the Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire to produce the next generation Astra – but the decision is dependent on the final terms of the UK’s exit from Europe.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, accused the former Foreign Secretary of lying about Brexit and indulging in “false promises, pseudo-patriotism and foreigner bashing”.

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The French car firm said in a statement: “Groupe PSA has announced its intention to manufacture the next generation Astra in two plants in Europe. The group has confirmed that the Rüsselsheim plant (in German) will manufacturer Astra and that it is planned that the second plant will be Ellesmere Port in the UK.”

But it added: “The decision on the allocation to the Ellesmere Port plant will be conditional on the final terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union and the acceptance of the New Vehicle Agreement, which has been negotiated with the Unite trade union.”

Car giant hints

The Astra is currently made at Ellesmere Port and at Gliwice in Poland. Employment at the Cheshire plant, a former RAF station, peaked at 12,000 in 1975 and it currently employs around 1,000 people. There had been fears it could close in 2014. The new Astra model is set to arrive after 2021.

Carlos Tavares, the chief executive of Groupe PSA, Europe’s second biggest car maker after Volkswagen, said last year that uncertainty over Brexit undermined Ellesmere Port’s chances of getting more work after 2021. “We cannot invest in a world of uncertainty,” he said at the time.

The Vauxhall warning comes as the Unite union said no-deal Brexit must be taken off the table to avoid driving the UK car industry over a cliff into a “sea of no-deal Brexit uncertainty”.

The UK car industry and Brexit

Vauxhall’s warning shot comes after car manufacturers have been saying for months that a risk of no-deal Brexit could seriously dent the UK industry.

i told in February how the industry was on “red alert” after figures showed car production had slumped by almost a 10th and after investment had effectively “stalled”.

In the same month, Nissan reversed a decision to produce its new X-Trail at its Sunderland plant, which employ 7,000 people, Jaguar Land Rover has also announced it is to cut 4,500 jobs under plans to make £2.5bn in cost savings – with most of the cuts in the UK.

Japanese firm Honda said in May it was planning to shut its Swindon plant in 2021, putting a further 3,500 jobs at risk. The plant produces more than 150,000 cars a year.

Falling sales, a move towards electric and self-driving cars and a trade war between the US and China have all been blamed for a global production downturn.

Ford said Brexit was “not to blame” for the proposed closure of its Bridgend plant, although union leaders warned the move was another “nail in the coffin” of the UK car industry.

Conservative Brexiteer Mark Francois said this week in a TV debate where he was told a “huge percentage” of car production will go overseas: “It would be our choice.”