Aviation giant Airbus on Friday underscored its threat to leave Britain if the country exits the European Union without an agreement on future trading relations, noting that the company is already taking steps to mitigate a worst-case scenario.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders was candid about his frustration with the government’s lack of progress in talks with the EU. Prime Minister Theresa May will meet with her Cabinet on Friday in an effort to hammer out a unified position on Brexit more than two years after the country voted to leave the bloc.
Enders stressed that Brexit in any form is damaging to business and to the U.K. — a dark cloud on the horizon for a country enjoying an unusually good summer.
“The sun is shining brightly on the U.K., the English team is progressing towards the [World Cup] final … the Royal Air Force is preparing to celebrate its centenary and her majesty’s government still has no clue, or at least no consensus, on how to execute Brexit without severe harm,” he told reporters Friday in a briefing on the state of the company ahead of the Farnborough airshow this month.
14,000 jobs at risk
The company, which employs about 14,000 people at 25 sites in the U.K., has said it will “reconsider its long-term footprint in the country” if there is no deal. Other companies, such as Jaguar Land Rover and BMW have also expressed grave concern in recent weeks because of the lack of clarity of future arrangements.
These global companies are particularly vulnerable to Brexit because of their international supply chain. Parts are made in several countries, which are shipped back and forth across international borders. Tariffs between the U.K. and EU would be a huge blow.
“Rest assured we are taking first preparations as we speak in order to be able to mitigate consequences from whatever Brexit scenario may follow,” Enders said.
Some members of May’s government have challenged companies’ warnings about Brexit, suggesting they would hurt the government’s efforts to negotiate a good deal.
U.K. cabinet meeting on Brexit
Enders was having none of it, though. He said he owed it to stakeholders to be forthright on the consequences and lay out worries about friction at the border that might stall operations.
The comments came as 30 U.K. cabinet ministers were being sequestered inside the prime minister’s Chequers country retreat — without their phones — for all-day talks on a compromise plan that May hopes will unite the government, and be accepted by the bloc.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was facing resistance from hard-core Brexit backers in her Conservative government as she attempts to hammer out a plan for future trade with the European Union.
At day’s end, May announced a proposal to keep the U.K. and the bloc in a free-trade zone for goods, but not for services, which make up the bulk of the British economy.
The next step is getting the EU, which has become increasingly impatient over the stalemate, to agree to the plan.