Honda has been urged to rethink its “devastating” decision to close its Swindon plant which will jeopardise 3,500 jobs.
Workers at the Wiltshire factory reacted angrily on Monday to the move at a time of turmoil for UK car manufacturing and fears over the impact of Brexit.
The Japanese car giant failed to respond to requests for comment over the proposal which comes less than six months after bosses pledged support for the plant, but confirmation is expected on Tuesday.
After a meeting with Honda and Business Secretary Greg Clark, Swindon’s Tory MPs Justin Tomlinson and Robert Buckland said they were “disappointed and surprised” by the news, adding that job losses were not expected until 2021.
Honda: @RobertBuckland & I have already spoken to the Business Secretary & Honda. They are clear this is based on global trends and not Brexit as all European market production will consolidate in Japan in 2021.
— Justin Tomlinson MP (@JustinTomlinson) February 18, 2019
Speaking to ITN, Mr Buckland later urged the manufacturer to “think again”.
He denied that Brexit was to blame for the “surprising and shocking news”, which he said was down to the firm wanting to take production back to Japan as it develops its electric engines.
Staff in the Wiltshire town – which voted 55% in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum – said they were angry about the development.
One worker, who has been at the plant for 24 years, told the Press Association he blamed the closure on Brexit.
The Remain voter said: “Perfectly viable car plant operating for 30 years, no problem at all – as soon as Brexit comes along the plant needs investment.
“People like Justin Tomlinson, our MP, campaigned for this Brexit. He wanted Brexit – he gets to carry the can. If he’s not unseated by a massive majority at the next election then this town gets what it deserves.”
Asked how he felt about the news, the man replied: “Pretty hacked off, to be fair.”
Another man leaving the site said staff had not been warned about the announcement.
He said: “Devastated. That’s all I can say.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it is a “huge blow” to workers and the wider community, adding: “The Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit is letting people down across the country.”
Honda's decision to close its factory in Swindon is a huge blow to the thousands of workers and the whole community.
The government's disastrous handling of Brexit is letting people down across the country.https://t.co/E6MK8DuVcB
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) February 18, 2019
Alan Tomala, regional officer for the Unite union, and a former employee at the plant between 1995 and 2007, said workers were “angry, dismayed and worried”.
“If the speculation is to be confirmed, 3,500 jobs are at risk,” Mr Tomala said.
“The usual formula is one job in the plant equates to four in the supply chain and the local economy. If closure is confirmed, it will rip the heart out of this area.”
He said the union represented more than 1,200 workers at the plant, and they had not been told if the reports were correct.
Reports that Honda is set to close its factory in Swindon with the potential loss of 3,500 jobs would be ‘a shattering body blow at the heart of UK manufacturing’, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Monday 18 February).https://t.co/j6rxeG4sy7
— Unite the union (@unitetheunion) February 18, 2019
“For employees, our members and the wider workforce, both in the plant and in the supply chain, to hear about this through the media I think is disrespectful and disgraceful,” Mr Tomala said.
“The workforce in there deserve better than that.”
The company employs about 3,500 people at the Swindon plant, building around 160,000 Civics a year, more than 90% of which are exported to Europe and the US.
The news comes a fortnight after Nissan told workers its next-generation X-Trail would be made in Japan and not Sunderland, as planned, despite the Government’s so-called sweetheart deal of up to £80 million to protect the firm from higher post-Brexit trade tariffs.
Speaking in September, Ian Howells, senior vice-president of Honda Europe, said the company remained “right behind” its plant in Swindon and was not considering moving out of the UK after Brexit.
Honda was the first major Japanese car company to get involved in large-scale manufacturing in the UK when it did a deal with British Leyland in 1980 to produce Honda-based models in BL factories.
Work began on its plant in Swindon in 1985.