Car production in the UK has continued to plummet amid protracted Brexit uncertainty which is threatening the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people and the economic futures of Britain’s industrial heartlands.
The latest car figures out on Thursday (May 30) show that car production in April nearly halved as the industry struggled to cope with the prospect of a cliff edge Brexit on March 29. Even though a no-deal Brexit was averted after the Brexit deadline was extended to the end of October, the damage was done.
This is now the eleventh month in a row that car production has fallen, with previous months’ declines blamed on a fall in demand for cars globally,notably in the EU, China and the US.
But the most recent figures, which show an extraordinary April production slump of 44.5 per cent – compared to a 13 per cent fall in March and 15 per cent in February – can be attributed directly to Brexit disruption, industry experts have said.
Chief executive of the trade body Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Mike Hawes said the latest figures were “evidence of the vast cost and upheaval Brexit uncertainty has already wrought on UK automotive manufacturing businesses and workers.
“This is why no deal must be taken off the table immediately and permanently, so industry can get back to the business of delivering for the economy and keeping the UK at the forefront of the global technology race,” he added.
Much of the slump in production happened as car manufacturers brought forward factory shutdowns for maintenance that are usually carried out in the summer to cope with no-deal Brexit disruption.
Because of this, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said today’s figures did “not come as a huge surprise”.
“But there is continued chaos and uncertainty amid on-going threats of a second no-deal departure on October 31 which will simply delay or divert desperately needed investment decisions, causing further anxiety across the auto sector, its workforce, supply chain and communities,” Turner warned.
He said the latest figures also reflect “the very real impact of a long-term absence of joined-up strategy from the government when it comes to understanding the issues confronting the automotive sector; its transition to new technologies, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, added to the impact of grinding austerity on disposable income and consumer confidence, and the chronic uncertainty that accompanies the Tories’ Brexit shambles.
“There are exciting new opportunities for the auto sector arising from technological advances and environmental challenges,” he added. “However, there is a very real danger that the UK misses this boat because this government is incapable of seizing the day.
“As the Tories now obsess over their next leader, they must stop playing dangerous electoral games with people’s jobs,” Turner went on to say. “No serious candidate to be prime minister should be promising to plunge out of our biggest trading partner with no deal because this would devastate manufacturing communities.”
Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey echoed Turner’s concerns over a no-deal Brexit.
She called the latest car productions figures “stark warnings of what could come from a hard-right Tory leader crashing the UK out of Europe with no deal”.
“The industry needs certainty and the government must work with trade unions to produce a long-term strategy for the sector,” she said.
The significant slump in car production seen over April comes just as an Oxford study published last month delved into the damage a no-deal Brexit could wreak on the industry. The study found that the sector has already lost 9 per cent of its volume because of Brexit uncertainty, while overall investment has dropped 80 per cent in the last three years since the referendum result.
Researchers warned that in the event of no-deal Brexit, the industry could be set to lose 35 per cent of its overall production volume in the next decade.
Unite’s Steve Turner urged the government to “continue to function, working with us to bring investment, research and development and new model platforms to this country. Failure to do so will not only be devastating for UK plc and our economy, but unforgivable for our industrial heartlands and generations of workers to come.”