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UK aerospace sector ‘at the precipice’, warns Airbus CEO

Image credit: DT

Airbus has warned that in the event of a no-deal “disgrace”, the company could shift its manufacturing operations out of the UK.

The European aerospace giant, which is largely based in Toulouse, France, directly employs 14,000 people across 25 sites in the UK. 6000 workers are employed at its main wings factory in Broughton, and a further 3000 in Filton, where its wings are designed. The company spends more than £5bn per year with its 4000+ UK suppliers, with approximately 110,000 jobs connected to its supply chains.

In a memo issued last year, Airbus warned that it could be forced to pull out of the UK entirely in the event of a no-deal Brexit: “Put simply, a no-deal scenario directly threatens Airbus’ future in the UK,” wrote Tom Williams, Airbus Commercial Aircraft COO, in June 2018. A month before, Airbus had announced that it would be moving its work on the Galileo satellite navigation system out of the UK in preparation for Brexit.

Now, Airbus has issued an even starker warning about the future of its UK operations in the case of a no-deal Brexit. After Parliament resoundingly voted down the government’s proposed Brexit deal in the largest government defeat in history with just weeks to go before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March, a no-deal Brexit is appearing increasingly likely.

“The UK’s aerospace sector now stands at the precipice,” said Airbus CEO Tom Enders in a video posted on the company website. “Brexit is threatening to destroy a century of development based on education, research and human capital. If there is a no-deal Brexit, we at Airbus will have to make potentially very harmful decisions for the UK.”

 

Enders dismissed accusations that Airbus and other businesses were merely bluffing as “Brexiteers’ madness”, explaining that despite Airbus having large established plants in the UK, the company would be willing to move its operations abroad if necessary: “In a global economy the UK no longer has the capability to go it alone. Major aerospace projects are multinational affairs.”

Enders added that while there would not be an immediate change in its presence in the UK – which is heavily based around wing design and building – the company could be “forced” to shift its operations abroad following a no-deal Brexit.

“It is not possible to pick up and move our large UK factories to other parts of the world immediately,” he said. “However, aerospace is a long-term business and we could be forced to re-direct future investments in the event of a no-deal Brexit. And make no mistake there are plenty of countries out there who would love to build the wings for Airbus aircraft.”

He described the lack of clarity given by the UK government about the future of the country’s relationship with the world’s largest trading bloc as a “disgrace” which made it difficult to plan for the future.

Paul Everitt, chief executive of UK aerospace trade body ADS Group, commented on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Enders’ message was “repeated consistently by the overwhelming majority of businesses in our sector”, adding that disruption at the borders would “fundamentally undermine” the sector.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond used his appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to attempt to persuade businesses that post-Brexit Britain was a “great place to do business”.

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