Owen Smith: With car industry jobs at risk, are we seeing the true cost of Brexit?

Perhaps, looking back, we’ll see that this was the week when the true cost of Brexit started to be counted in Britain, and we understood who would truly pay the price. Over the last couple of weeks 17,000 car workers – 4,500 in Ellesmere Port and Luton, 7000 in Sunderland, 4,500 in Oxford and 1,700 in Bridgend – have heard questions asked about the future of their plants and about the vital, well-paying jobs that they rely on to feed their families and sustain their local economies.

Now before the Brexiteers start whinging about Project Fear, let me be clear: no jobs have been lost as yet and none of the manufacturers involved have said explicitly that Brexit is the cause of their current difficulties. And I sincerely hope that not a single job will be lost – not least in the Ford plant at Bridgend where so many of my own constituents are employed. But let me be equally clear, those car businesses are planning for the future and the fact of Brexit is being factored into their plans. And nowhere is it being considered as a positive.

Whether it is Ford, Nissan, GM, Peugeot or BMW, motor manufacturers have been explicit, before and after Brexit, that any increase in the tariffs payable on British cars will damage the competitiveness of their plants, and thus risk the jobs that they support. Already, before we leave and before there has been any change to taxes and tariffs, the impact of the vote has been felt through the massive devaluation in the pound versus the dollar. Ford estimate that alone will cost them £600 million at current rates, far more if sterling continues to slide to parity with the dollar, as some have been warning.

And those losses will be small beer compared to the effect of a Brexit deal which sees Britain falling out of the EU onto World Trade Organisation tariffs. That would slap an addition 9.8 per cent onto UK-made cars, adding £2000, on average, to their cost for consumers. No one – apart perhaps from the bosses at Nissan or BMW or GM – can know precisely that would mean for the sustainability of our car industry.

But only the most complacent of Governments could remain unconcerned about the possible impact of Brexit when in just a few days we’ve seen GM talking to Peugoet about selling Vauxhall, BMW warn that they may want to make the new electric Mini in Germany, Nissan refuse to guarantee the safety of their Sunderland site and Ford confirm that they’ve got no plans after 2020 to replace the Sigma and Jaguar Landrover engines that will finish that year in Bridgend.

So while no jobs have been lost yet, the threat to investment and jobs should be clear to us all. This isn’t fake news, it’s fact. BMW say ‘Integration of the UK into the EU Single Market…would be best for business’. GM state ‘Absent Brexit we would have broken even in Europe’. And Nissan are crystal clear, their preferred option out of the Brexit negotiations is for Britain’s relations with the EU ‘to stay where they are.’

In light of those warnings, it would be an act of gross negligence by this government to continue to pursue their Brexit at all costs, because no one will be able to say that we were not warned or that the prospect of British workers footing the bill wasn’t clear to us all. In her curiously reckless negotiations, Mrs May has already thrown away our ace card of demanding full access to the Single Market, now she is jeopardising inward investment in Britain with promise of a hard Brexit or no deal at all. The Brexit the British people were promised was about taking back control and building a stronger economy. If it results in losing control of our car industry, or the loss of other manufacturing jobs, its promise will have been nothing short of betrayal. And those who have been betrayed will deserve and demand the chance to put it right.

More from LabourList