(Title Image: Daily Post)
Tuesday was the first opportunity for AMs to discuss in detail Airbus’ Brexit impact assessment, which concluded that the company may consider withholding investment or withdrawing from the UK in the event of a “no deal Brexit” (where the UK reverts to World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs).
Addressing AMs, Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said the warning should be taken seriously and he called for the UK Government to rule out a “no deal Brexit” and to put jobs and the economy first. A number of organisations representing key industrial sectors were now saying there would be “no Brexit dividend” for them.
He added that a period of prolonged uncertainty would do “irrevocable damage to our manufacturing base and its supply chain”. Six of the world’s top 10 civil aerospace and defence companies have an operation in Wales and the aerospace industry supports 20,000 jobs in Wales.
Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) said the news was a concern, but he had confidence the UK Government were doing what they could to reach a deal. Regardless of Brexit, he had concerns that Wales wasn’t doing enough to encourage inward investment and retain major employers and there were economic powers at the Welsh Government’s disposal to address this.
Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) drew comparisons to a mass redundancy at Shotton steelworks in 1980, where 6,500 people were laid off in a single day – the same number of people who work at Airbus Broughton. He called the announcement a “reality check”, but criticised Labour MPs for not doing enough to change course at Westminster.
Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales) dismissed it as “fake news from Project Fear”; it was a political statement from Airbus, who were acting like “an accomplice for a hostile foreign power”. Most aircraft components would be tariff-free under WTO rules and where tariffs are applied they would be as low as 5%. Introducing tariffs would harm the German car industry as they export more vehicles to the UK than they import.
Ken Skates called Neil Hamilton’s contribution “embarrassing” and hoped nobody in industry heard it; “get out of your trench, take out your earplugs and listen to people who know about the aerospace sector a hell of a lot more than you do.”
Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) reminded the chamber that Airbus contributes around £560million towards Welsh economic output – the equivalent of about 5% of Cardiff’s output. It wasn’t too late for the UK Government to show leadership by delivering the sort of clarity on Brexit that industry is demanding.
Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West) raised concerns along similar lines with relation to EADS in Newport, while Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) echoed his party colleagues earlier comments which boiled down to “The deal is being done; don’t panic”.