Japanese carmaker Honda plans to close its factory in Swindon, dealing what trade unions called a “shattering body blow” to the UK automotive sector, which is already wrestling with the effects of Brexit-related uncertainty. The move would put 3,500 jobs at its only European production site at risk and even threaten others in its supply chain. “At this point, we are not able to make any comments regarding the speculation. We take our responsibilities to our associates very seriously and will always communicate any significant news with them first,” Honda said in a statement.
The loss of the plant follows previous warnings about the impact of a no-deal Brexit from Britain's largest automotive firm, Jaguar Land Rover, as well as Ford, Toyota, Nissan and BMW. Many of the firms have also pointed to a slowdown in demand from China, as well as slumping diesel sales caused by the continuing fallout from the 'Dieselgate' emissions data-rigging scandal. Earlier this month, Nissan ditched plans to build its new X-Trail SUV in Sunderland, while Ford has said it would shed 1,000 jobs as part of a wider European cost-cutting plan. The Swindon factory made 160,000 Honda Civics last year, just over 10 per cent of total UK vehicle production. The vast majority were for export to the EU. Honda is expected to move production back to Japan, partly because it can guarantee tariff-free exports to the EU.
Jaguar Land Rover has cited Brexit among the factors in its own 4,500 job cuts, while Toyota and BMW have said production sites could close in a no-deal scenario. However, Justin Tomlinson, the North Swindon Conservative MP whose constituency includes the plant, said he had spoken to the company and insisted its decision was “due to global trends and not Brexit”. Honda had, however, also previously voiced concern about the impact a hard Brexit could have on the 'just-in-time' manufacturing processes crucial to the automotive sector, potentially costing the company millions of pounds. Britain's largest trade union Unite said the closure of the Swindon plant would be a “shattering body blow at the heart of UK manufacturing.”
Des Quinn, the union's national officer for the automotive sector, called for an urgent statement from Business Minister Greg Clark. “The car industry in the UK over the last two decades has been the jewel in the crown for the manufacturing sector, and now it has been brought low by the chaotic Brexit uncertainty created by the rigid approach adopted by Prime Minister Theresa May. We are seeking urgent clarification from Honda on the implications of these serious reports. The 3,500-strong workforce do skilled, well paid job that the UK can ill-afford to lose.” He added, “If the government had advance warning of this dreadful news and did not alert the unions, this is an appalling and cavalier attitude by ministers.”