Some of the north east’s leading politicians and industry figures have expressed concerns about the impact of Brexit on the north east’s economy if the right deal can’t be struck.
Major north east manufacturers Nissan and Hitachi have been saying that they can’t guarantee their operations would continue as expected if tariff-free access to Europe’s Single Market is not ensured.
In addition, 60% of the north east’s trade is with the EU, with 7 major ports in our region facing Europe. One in 10 north-east jobs depend directly on this trade, with many others depending on it indirectly.
Brexit may also affect foreign students studying at the north east’s universities. Such students are major source of revenue for the region.
Business secretary Greg Clark recently met a delegation from the north east to discuss these concerns. The delegation was made up of James Ramsbotham, the chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, Beth Farhat, regional secretary of Northern TUC, and Phil Wilson, the MP for Sedgefield.
Prior to the meeting, Mr Ramsbotham said, “We wanted to make sure the secretary of state is aware of the specific impact (of Brexit) as it pertains to the north east of England.”
“From a Westminster perspective, they don’t always see our part of the world and we have very specific interests.”
“It’s not about trying to reverse any decision (about Brexit). It’s saying that if we are going down this route then we need to protect the great industries that we have.”
Mr Ramsbotham said he was particularly concerned about Nissan, which employs 7,000 people in Sunderland, and Hitachi.
Though Nissan last year seemed to shrug off Brexit jitters by announcing it would expand production at its Washington plant, recently the car giant has been making anxious noises about the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal.
If the EU imposed tariffs on British goods, it could cost the carmaker £500 million per year. The tariff imposed on British-made cars would probably be 10%. Nissan said, “If we just put a straight 10% on the cost of a car, that would be pretty disastrous.”
“We would have to adjust our business to take into account whatever this new trading platform would be.”
Hitachi, in Newton Aycliffe, is building trains for the West Coast Main Line and may be in the running for lucrative HS2 contracts in the coming years. But Hitachi’s chairman, Hiroaki Nakanishi, has warned that operating the company’s £82-million north-east factory may be “troublesome” after Brexit.
Mr Ramsbotham said, “A hell of a lot of not just jobs but the economy as a whole hangs on Nissan, so we really need to put pressure on the government to make sure they do everything they can to support Nissan.”
“The north east has been so successful over the years in attracting inward investors. To put that at risk is a significant threat to the region.”
The north-east delegation asked Mr Clark to ensure that Britain retains its “unimpeded tariff-free access to the Single Market” and also to ensure that no extra bureaucracy is introduced that could make exporting more difficult.
A spokesperson for Mr Clark said he was glad of the chance to discuss the issues facing the north east with the delegation.