Brexit played ‘inevitable role’ in Nissan X-Trail decision, says MP

Brexit played an "inevitable role" in the reported decision by Nissan to abandon plans to build its X-Trail model at its Sunderland plant, an MP has said.

According to Sky News, the company will confirm the move to cancel plans to build the new version of the SUV on Monday, just 53 days before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU.

Unite's assistant general secretary for manufacturing, Steve Turner, said the "rumours are disturbing" and many of the workforce will endure a "very anxious weekend".

Sunderland Central Labour MP Julie Elliott said Nissan is yet to officially announce the move, but that the "inevitable role" Brexit has played cannot be denied.

"The constant uncertainty, the chaotic government. None of it is conducive to encouraging business investment in this country," she added.

While Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, Bridget Phillipson, said if the move is confirmed it would "represent deeply troubling news for the North East economy".

Tory Remainer Anna Soubry tweeted that it was "difficult not to be angry" at the reports, adding: "This is Brexit reality."

Nissan had voiced concerns about Brexit before finally committing to build the new Qashqai and X-Trail models in its North East factory in October 2016, four months after the EU referendum.

The Japanese company refused to shed light on the situation on Saturday and remained tight lipped. A spokesman said: "Nissan does not comment on rumour or speculation."

Mr Turner said it is "beyond disappointing" that Unite members heard about their futures and the holding back of planned Sunderland investments through the media and not directly from the company.

"These rumours are disturbing and will cause the workforce to have a very anxious weekend even though production of the X-Trail would have necessitated additional jobs on site," he said.

"We have a dedicated, world-class workforce in Sunderland, good jobs that support families and communities who deserve far better than this."

He said Unite is "working hard to establish the truth behind current speculation", adding that they will be meeting the company on Monday to establish the facts.

At the time, the decision to build its next-generation Qashqai and add production of the new X-Trail model at the site had eased concerns about the future of the North East factory after Brexit.

It secured thousands of jobs in the Brexit-backing city, but prompted a volley of questions over whether a so-called "sweetheart deal" between the car-maker and the Government had been struck to protect the manufacturer from any post-Brexit EU tariff wall.

Ministers strongly denied any financial incentives were offered and Chancellor Philip Hammond said any costs arising from the assurances would be small enough to be covered within the Department for Business's existing spending limits.

The Sunderland plant, which has been active since 1986, employs almost 7,000 people, producing around 2,000 cars a day.

Other Nissan models built at the site include the Qashqai, Juke, Q30, Note and the zero-emission electric Leaf.

Nissan is part-owned by French manufacturer Renault, which had led to concerns that production could be moved to France to avoid any tariffs which might be introduced on exports to the EU if the UK leaves the single market in a hard Brexit.

According to Sky News, the firm's decision is not expected to have a major impact on jobs.

The U-turn comes as figures show car production slumped by almost a tenth last year, leaving the industry on "red alert" amid continued Brexit uncertainty.

A report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said investment had effectively "stalled" amid fears over the UK's future trading prospects with the EU.

Just over 1.5 million cars left UK factories in 2018, a 9.1% decline on the previous year, and the lowest for six years.

Production of diesel cars was down by 22% to 561,000 last year.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said the fall in investment was "deeply depressing" and should send a strong signal to politicians to secure a Brexit trade deal.

The reported decision by Nissan also comes just weeks after a triple jobs blow in the UK car industry.

Earlier this month American car manufacturer Ford confirmed nearly 400 jobs would be lost at its engine manufacturing plant in Bridgend.

It followed a similar move by Jaguar Land Rover to reduce its 44,000 workforce by 4,500 under plans to make £2.5 billion of cost savings – with most of the cuts in the UK.

Japanese firm Honda also announced six non-production days in April under contingency plans to mitigate the risk of disruption to production at its Swindon factory after the UK leaves the EU.