‘Project Reality’, Brexit and the cargo ship en route to the unknown

Planet Business: A long way from Spitfires, UK’s no-deal flirtation racks up casualties

Media gather outside the Honda Motor plant in Swindon. It isn’t good news. Photograph: James Beck/Bloomberg

Media gather outside the Honda Motor plant in Swindon. It isn’t good news. Photograph: James Beck/Bloomberg

 

Image of the week: Swindon shutdown

The news cameras headed to Swindon in southwest England this week as Honda Motor confirmed that it plans to close its only European factory – the first time the Japanese company has shut down a vehicle plant in its 71-year history. Was the UK’s scheduled departure from the European Union to blame? “This decision is not related to Brexit,” said chief executive Takahiro Hachigo. Industry analysts nevertheless insisted that Brexit could hardly have helped. Near its Swindon assembly plant, on the site of a former Spitfire factory, the company operates two massive Honda Civic warehouses where it can store only enough components for 36 hours of production – what goes in must go out. If a hard Brexit caused border delays, the whole manufacturing edifice would start to look shaky. Either way, some 3,500 jobs have gone

In numbers: Midnight hour

40

Free-trade agreements with 70 countries, including Japan, that the UK currently benefits from as part of its membership of the EU.

12

Percentage of UK trade that these deals represent. They are  due to expire on “Brexit day”, March 29th, despite British trade secretary Liam Fox’s one-time claim that new deals would be ready at “one second past midnight”.

40

Days that it will take the Thalassa Mana cargo ship to travel from the southeast coast of England to Osaka, Japan. It left on Monday and won’t arrive until March 30th, one day after Britain is due to leave the EU, meaning it has no clue of what customs arrangement awaits it when it docks.

Increasingly vocal UK business secretary Greg Clark. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty
Increasingly vocal UK business secretary Greg Clark. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

Getting to know: Greg Clark

British business secretary Greg Clark (51) is a senior Conservative cabinet minister who has up to now been relatively anonymous. Clark is quietly moderate, which in today’s media culture means he is ignored unless it can be turned into a party in-fighting story. In 2018, for example, he hit the headlines after dismissing his frequently mispronounced colleague Jeremy Hunt’s dismissal of Airbus’s Brexit warnings, insisting that Airbus as a major employer and supporter of employment in Britain was “entitled to be listened to with respect”. Clark’s profile is now rising with every manufacturing industry wobble. Businesses’ fears of a no-deal Brexit are not “project fear” but “project reality” is his latest line. He would quite like a no-deal Brexit to be off the table, but then wouldn’t we all?

The list: reverse gear

Honda isn’t the only company announcing job losses while Westminster is fully occupied by its Brexit pantomime.

1: Jaguar Land Rover. The company, owned by Indian conglomerate Tata, is cutting 4,500 jobs worldwide, the majority of them in Britain.

2: Nissan. Jobs are at risk at its Sunderland plant after it said it wouldn’t manufacture its X-Trail SUV there after all. Brexit uncertainty was part of the reason, it said.

3: Ford. About 1,100 jobs will be cut, most of them at its Bridgend plant in Wales. A majority of Welsh voters, like those of Swindon and Sunderland, backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

4: Dyson. The decision to relocate his company’s headquarters from the UK to Singapore has “nothing to do with Brexit”, says James Dyson, which is just as well as he is a prominent Brexiteer.

5: Flybmi. The airline went into administration this week with the loss of 400 jobs. It definitely had something to do with Brexit.

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