Ford in Bridgend - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:08 pm on 10th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 6:08 pm, 10th June 2019

My Lords, I draw attention to the interests in my name in the register and thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, notwithstanding his optical challenges, for his very eloquent statement. I associate myself with almost everything he said; I will not attempt to repeat it, but the loss of the Ford Bridgend plant is huge. It is not just the 1,700 workers; it is the whole community—the subcontractors and the infrastructure that supports that factory. I agree with the GMB’s assessment that this is a disaster, not just for that area but for the UK car industry.

Following on from the final point of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, could the Minister tell us what talks Her Majesty’s Government had with Ford in the lead-up to this announcement? What help were they able to offer Ford, which in the end proved not to be enough? How far did the Government go to prevent this happening? They had fair warning. In April, Ford warned that it would reconsider its UK investments if MPs could not agree a Brexit deal that offers a smooth departure from the EU. This really points up that Brexit is absolutely a factor in this Statement, notwithstanding the point that the Secretary of State has made. It is also another dagger in the side of the industrial strategy.

For the avoidance of doubt, can the Minister update your Lordships’ House on how the Government are getting on with negotiating the smooth exit strategy that Ford and the rest of the car industry need? How many meetings have been had in Brussels since the extension of the exit date? How many times has the Prime Minister met with anybody in Brussels to bring forward a new proposal to Parliament? Indeed, when might Parliament expect a new proposal to deliver the smooth exit that business says it needs as a minimum level? The Minister may plead that this is above his pay grade—modestly, I would suggest—but this, above all issues, is front and centre in all the decisions that his department, BEIS and all the other departments in this country and Wales are dominated by. It must be dominating his waking hours. I hope he has an answer to the question: how are you getting on with the negotiations?

I thought that the situation was bad last term, but that stasis is nothing compared to what we are seeing now. The PM, as we know, has stepped down and the Government have gone into a sabbatical of self-immolation—if you want to see what setting fire to yourself looks like, just look at what Michael Gove managed over the weekend—while Britain’s advanced manufacturing is crying out for stability and direction. In the words of the SMMT’s chief executive:

“This ongoing uncertainty is corrosive, both on the operations … and on their reputation”.

That is another reason why Brexit is causing this to happen. The reason Ford pulled out is that it is losing confidence in the UK trading environment.

Of course, it is not just automotive. A recent paper from the Royal Economic Society finds that the confusion following Brexit has caused an output loss—a cut in GDP—of 1.7% to 2.5% up to the end of 2018. Today’s announcement of a drop in GDP of 0.4% in one month is a shocking reminder, but we should not be surprised. We were warned. In fact, the ERG’s favourite economist, Patrick Minford, explained some time ago that a no-deal Brexit would see manufacturers go the same way as the coal industry. That prediction is now being priced into every industrial and commercial decision made today, and it is the workers of Bridgend who are falling foul of that today.

In the FT, the Business Secretary is quoted as saying in this context that there are “grounds for optimism”. I am sure the Minister will agree with his colleague, because Ministers have to agree with Secretaries of State, so could he please answer just this one question, if none of the others. On this rainy day, what are the grounds for optimism for the workers of Ford Bridgend?