Nissan got ‘strong assurances’ on market access, says Blair
Nissan’s decision to construct the next generation of its popular Qashqai and X-Trail SUVs in Britain despite the country’s decision to quit the EU must be due to “very strong assurances” on access to the single market from the government according to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The decision was announced yesterday following a meeting between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn earlier this month.
But Britain’s business minister Greg Clark said he had not ‘opened the chequebook’ to secure the major new investment in the country’s biggest car plant in Sunderland, which currently employs approximately 7,000 people.
Blair said he backed moves by the government to keep investment in the UK.
“I know the leadership at Nissan, I’m absolutely sure they would not have made this commitment unless they received very strong assurances from the UK government. Now, if the UK government are giving those assurances, I welcome that,” he told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.
“I should imagine they gave strong assurances about the car industry’s access to the single market. If this is an indication that the UK government are giving strong assurances about access to the single market, this would be important.”
The Labour party has demanded that the government comes clean on any “secret deal” with the car manufacturer. Ministers side-stepped reports that Nissan was given written guarantees it would be compensated if the EU imposed a post-Brexit tariff barrier against British exports.
As controversy over allegations of a secret deal continued to swirl, Labour chairman of the Commons Business Committee Iain Wright insisted Clark must appear before the watchdog to give evidence on the matter.
Clark told BBC Question Time that no financial favours were offered, saying: “There’s no chequebook. I don’t have a chequebook.
“The important thing is that they know this is a country in which they can have confidence they can invest. That was the assurance and the understanding they had, and they have invested their money.”
Wright told the BBC: “On the one hand, it’s taxpayers’ money, and, I think, we would need to know. And, on the other, it could be commercial confidence as well. But, in terms of transparency, in respect of how government will intervene and provide that reassurance and support, I do think that’s important.”
Nissan’s decision has been used by Prime Minister Theresa May as proof that the UK is still an attractive investment hub despite the flux caused by the Brexit vote.
When pressed on whether written assurances on compensation for any future EU tariffs had been given, Clark told the BBC: “We have had, obviously, as you might imagine, lots of communication between us, but actually what it rests on is a very strong mutual confidence.”
Colin Lawther, Nissan’s senior vice president for manufacturing in Europe, denied there was a special deal for the company.
“No, there is no offer of exchange. It’s just the commitment from the Government to work with the whole of the automotive industry to make sure that the whole automotive industry in the UK remains competitive,” he said.
Last year, before the Brexit vote had taken place, Britain’s automotive market was found to be more productive than ever before, according to figures from the motor industry trade association SMMT.