Government has no clue how to execute Brexit without harm – Airbus chief

The chief executive of Airbus has accused the government of having “no clue” on how to leave the EU without harming the economy, as the prime minister hosted a summit at Chequers aimed at uniting the cabinet behind a Brexit plan.

The criticism from the aerospace firm, which employs 14,000 people in the UK, is the strongest intervention yet from the business community on the risk of a hard Brexit and came in the same week that Jaguar Land Rover, Britain’s largest carmaker, warned its UK operations with 40,000 staff were under threat.

Speaking at a briefing in London before the Farnborough air show later this month, the Airbus chief executive, Tom Enders, said: “The sun is shining brightly on the UK, the English team is progressing towards the [World Cup] final, the RAF is preparing to celebrate its centenary and Her Majesty’s government still has no clue, no consensus on how to execute Brexit without severe harm.”

Enders said Airbus, a Franco-German group that supports a further 100,000 UK jobs in its supply chain, was wary of all types of Brexit, including a worst-case no-deal scenario.

“Rest assured that we are taking first preparations as we speak in order to mitigate consequences from whatever Brexit scenario may follow,” he said. “Brexit in whatever form, soft or hard, light or clean, whatever you call it, will be damaging for industry, for our industry and damaging for the UK, whatever the outcome will be.”

The company has previously said that a hard Brexit could force it to leave the UK, where it builds wings for its aircraft at facilities such as Broughton, in north Wales.

Enders said uncertainty over the nature of the UK’s departure from the EU was “very discomforting” and it was the company’s duty to speak up about the issue.

“Our interference is not to play politics,” he said. “We owe it to our stakeholders to be truthful about the consequences and those would be severe in the event of an unorderly [sic] or hard Brexit. Let’s see what comes out of Chequers: white smoke, black smoke or no smoke.”

He warned of the danger that the UK could leave the European Aviation Safety Agency, which he said would see the process by which parts are certified for use in aircraft fall apart.

“That could be a very troubling situation that could eventually lead to a standstill of production,” Enders said. “After all the time that has been spent and lost on this process – and the situation being as it is – that’s not a scenario we can exclude.”

The Airbus chief executive, Tom Enders

Tom Enders says Airbus is lobbying the European Union to ensure continued cooperation on defence and security. Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Guillaume Faury, the president of the commercial aircraft division of Airbus, said the company was already asking parts suppliers to ramp up production in case its supply chain was disrupted by Brexit, but warned many would struggle to do so.

The request is intended to ensure Airbus has enough parts in reserve to last for three months if a no-deal Brexit slows down the movement of components across borders.

“Let’s assume we want a three-month buffer for UK suppliers of parts to aeroplanes in France and Germany,” he said. “They have to start producing 35% more parts during the next nine months to prepare just a three-month buffer, to give time to adapt. Most suppliers are at max production already today.”

After Enders refused to comment any further on Brexit, it was left to Faury to say that Airbus was not bluffing about the possibility of winding down investment in the UK. “You bluff when there is a benefit for bluffing,” he said. “We went public because we see the risks growing and we need decisions. We need clarity to prepare ourselves.”

Airbus was joined this week by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in voicing concern about the dangers of a hard Brexit. JLR said a bad Brexit deal would force it to reconsider £80bn of investment planned for the UK, putting 40,000 jobs at risk.

Carmakers including Nissan, BMW and the Vauxhall owners, PSA – as well as the industry trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders – have also voiced concern about the lack of clarity on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Rolls-Royce said on Thursday it had drawn up contingency plans to move design approval out of the UK to Germany because of uncertainty about the shape of Brexit.

While Airbus reserved most of its criticism for the British government, Enders said the company was also lobbying the European Union to ensure continued cooperation on defence and security, including multinational projects such as the Galileo GPS navigation system.

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“If there’s one company in Europe that makes its voice heard, not just in London but Paris in Brussels and Berlin, it’s Airbus,” he said. “We would not understand if the UK falls out of the Galileo project.

“Beyond all the bickering and tactics and negotiation, both sides have a strong interest for further close cooperation with the UK on security and defence matters. There are only two serious military forces in the EU today and one is the UK. Guess who is the other; it’s not Germany.”


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