An Airbus executive has exclusively revealed to Sky News that the company has been recruited by the UK government in a bid to stave off exiting from the European Union without a deal.
Airbus senior vice president Katherine Bennett told Sky News on Thursday that Downing Street had urged the aerospace giant to “make clear” the impact of crashing out of the EU without a deal.
Sky News business presenter Ian King asked Ms Bennett: “Did the UK govt put you up to this?”
She replied: “No the government didn’t – I mean the government have been talking to us and other industry representatives all the time, of course.
“And we’ve given them lots of information about the potential impacts.
“But they did say ‘could you make sure you make clear the potential impact of a ‘no deal’ and we’re happy to do that, because no deal is potentially going to be catastrophic for us.”
The revelation came just hours after Airbus chief executive Tom Enders warned that the company could shift wing production away from the UK in the event of hard Brexit “madness”.
Earlier, Mr Enders said in a company video that “potentially very harmful decisions” were ahead without a smooth divorce from the EU.
He described the failure of politicians to achieve clarity on the issue to date as a “disgrace”.
Mr Enders has been consistent in his opposition to Brexit from the outset but his comments were seen as his most explicit threat yet that its wing assembly lines would be moved abroad under a “no-deal” scenario.
That is essentially Brexit with no new EU trade deal in place.
Airbus said there would be no immediate change to its UK operations because of the company’s production cycles but it warned the UK’s position “at the forefront of global aviation for more than a century” was clearly threatened.
Airbus employs more than 14,000 staff in the country, with the bulk of the workforce stationed at its two biggest sites at Filton and Broughton – the latter where all wing assembly takes place.
The company said its current UK operations also support a further 110,000 roles in the wider economy.
In the video, Mr Enders hit out at the advocates of a hard Brexit.
He said: “Please don’t listen to the Brexiteers’ madness which asserts that because we have huge plants here, we will not move and we will always be here.
“They are wrong. Of course it’s not possible to pick up and move our large UK factories to other parts of the world immediately, however aerospace is a long term business and we could be forced to redirect future investments in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”
He added: “In a global economy, the UK no longer has the capability to go it alone.”
His remarks tally with those of wider business groups, which expressed deep frustration earlier this month when Theresa May’s Brexit deal with Brussels was heavily defeated by MPs.
The likes of the CBI and BCC said that while the terms were not perfect, they could have lived with them as they were far more preferable than the prospect of no deal.
A number of international businesses, especially those in the banking sector, have shifted some jobs – or created new ones – abroad to ensure continued access to EU markets as a precaution.
Just this week Sony said it was moving its European HQ from the UK in case Brexit disrupted its current trading arrangements.
Dyson, founded by the Brexit-supporting Sir James Dyson, attracted accusations of betrayal when it announced on Tuesday that it was moving its head office to Singapore.
The technology company insisted its decision was not linked to the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Commenting on the Airbus announcement, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay told MPs: “I take very seriously the warning from the chief executive of Airbus.
“What the chief executive and others in the business community are clear on is that they want a deal to avoid the uncertainty of no deal and that is why he is backing the prime minister.”
A government spokesperson later responded: “The UK is a world leader in aerospace. We are the home of the jet engine, the wing factory of the world and are world-renowned for our skills and capabilities in the most technically-advanced parts of aerospace manufacturing.
“It remains our top priority to leave the EU with a good deal; a deal that is good for business, will protect jobs and prosperity, and provide the certainty that business needs.”
(c) Sky News 2019: Airbus helps No 10 ‘make clear’ impact of ‘no-deal’ Brexit