The boss of one of the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturers today warned that in any scenario Brexit would have “severe negative consequences for the UK aerospace industry and Airbus in particular.”
He said that Airbus has repeatedly been demanding clarity from Theresa May’s government over what trading arrangements will be available with Europe in March 2019. He warned that without a clear government strategy the aviation multinational would have to take steps to protect production, putting 100,000 jobs in the UK at risk.
“Over the next weeks we need to get clarity. We are already beginning to press the button on our crisis actions. We have got to be able to protect our employees, our customers and our shareholders and we can’t do that in the current situation,” warned Tom Williams.
The Airbus Commercial Aircraft CEO added: “In total, Airbus generates 100,000 jobs in the UK.
“We’re saying to our employees that clearly we’re frustrated, concerned by the situation and particularly the lack of clarity and certainly my own personal position is we’ve got a great operation in the UK.
“It is my responsibility to protect that and to protect our employees and we’re doing this on their behalf.”
He explained: “I’m an engineer not a politician I have to deal in certainty. And we need to have clarity. We can’t continue with the current vacuum in terms of clarity.”
Tom Williams told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that plants building aircraft wings in the UK may have to be switched to somewhere with regulations compatible with trade with the EU.
“We are seriously considering whether we should continue that development or we should find alternate solutions,” he warned, explaining that the 100,000 jobs that the company generates in Britain, including 14,000 people directly employed are being put at risk.
Airbus’ UK activity not only employs people at 25 sites directly, as well as an infrastructure of subcontractors all over Britain, but the aerospace firm brings in £1.7 billion in tax revenues to Britain every year.
Mr Williams warned that all this is at risk if Theresa May leaves negotiations with Brussels with no deal. He explained that the company could not use UK suppliers now without at least an extension to the Brexit transition period.
Airbus makes wings for the A320, A330/A340, A350 and A380 passenger planes in the UK, and said the current planned transition period, due to end in December 2020, was too short for it to make changes to its supply chain.
When Airbus recently raised its concerns, Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer warned: “If proof was needed that the PM’s Brexit red lines need to be abandoned (and fast), this is it.”
Paul Drechsler, outgoing president of the CBI, recently warned that certain industries faced extinction if Britain leaves the EU customs union. Last week he said that the motor industry were warning that they needed “frictionless trade” and that there was “zero evidence” that trade deals outside the EU would make up for the loss to Britain.
Theresa May has ruled out staying in the customs union. Instead hard Brexiteers and remainers in the Conservative party are arguing about whether the UK should negotiate a very similar customs partnership without customs checks at the border – compatible with Ireland and Northern Ireland – or a “highly streamlined” customs arrangement with minimal checks on goods travelling across borders.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator says both options are unrealistic.