Japanese investment in the United Kingdom is important. Half of all Japanese investment to the European Union comes to this country, much of it to the north-east of England. The Japanese ambassador has called the region the ‘second home’ of Japanese investment.
6,700 direct jobs have been created at Nissan’s car manufacturing plant in Washington. There is Kamatsu in Birtley, Nifco in Stockton and of course Hitachi in my constituency, which has just opened its new train-building factory, creating at least 730 direct jobs with an £82m price-tag and representing the largest private sector investment in the north-east since Nissan arrived back in 1986.
So when the Japanese government issues a 15-page statement ahead of the G20 in China about the threat to future Japanese investment in the UK, I sit up and listen. The statement says, ‘Japan respects the will of the British people as demonstrated in the referendum’ and also goes on to say, ‘In light of the fact that a number of Japanese businesses, invited by the Government in some cases, have invested actively to the UK, which was seen to be a gateway to Europe, and have established value-chains across Europe, we strongly request that the UK will consider this fact seriously and respond in a responsible manner to minimise any harmful effects on these businesses’. The statement then says that the, ‘Japanese business community hopes to see the UK implement measures to promote investment’ – and if not, ‘Japanese businesses with their European headquarters in the UK may decide to transfer their head-office function to Continental Europe’.
This is serious. Hitachi’s global headquarters for rail is now in London. Its primary manufacturing plant is in the north-east, in Newton Aycliffe. But it also has a factory in Italy. I want to see Hitachi’s factory expand and I believe it will in the medium term as it potentially wins more British contracts. But, like Hitachi, I am looking to the long term and, that means accessing markets in the EU.
After Brexit, hopefully we will be able to do that. But we need the government to come up with a plan. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is not a plan, it is a slogan. We need a Brexit which promotes access to the EU marketplace to prevent jobs and investment leaving regions like the north-east – yes, a region that voted to leave the EU but nonetheless one which relies on much inward investment because of our its skills and access to the European market.
I want that to continue and, if it can’t, I want to know why and what will replace it.
The government has the job of squaring the Brexit circle. Business does not like uncertainty. At present, the British public seems content with Brexit meaning Brexit, but uncertainty can be contagious, and I wonder how long it will be before that uncertainty spreads to the shop floor unless the government can come up with a Brexit definition.
And I am not too sure the government knows how, or whether, it is possible. As a consequence, the best Brexit definition may be ‘Get what you are given and live with it’ because the process of leaving EU becomes all too difficult.
Phil Wilson MP is member of parliament for Sedgefield. He tweets @PhilWilsonMP
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