Airbus has confirmed it is considering cutting thousands of jobs in the UK as it starts to “press the button on crisis actions” over concerns about Brexit.
The company said it could ditch plans to build aircraft wings in British factories over concerns that EU regulations will no longer apply from March 2019 and uncertainty over customs procedures, instead opting to transfer production to North America, China or elsewhere in the EU.
Airbus, which directly employs 14,000 people at 25 sites in Britain and supports more than 100,000 jobs in the wider supply chain, also said a no-deal scenario would lead to “catastrophic” consequences, which could cost the company billions of pounds in delays. The firm also said it was considering stockpiling billions of pounds of parts to prepare for Brexit disruption.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Tom Williams, the chief operating officer of Airbus Commercial Aircraft, was asked if the company was planning to abandon its plans to build new wings in the UK. He replied: “We are seriously considering whether we should continue that development, or we should find alternate solutions.”
Asked how many jobs were at risk, Williams pointed out that Airbus generates 100,000 jobs in the UK, including 14,000 directly employed by the company.
Williams repeatedly called on the government to provide more detail about trading arrangements under Brexit and said the lack of clarity was forcing its hand.
He said: “Over the next weeks we need to get clarity. We are already beginning to press the button on our crisis actions … We have got to be able to protect our employees, our customers and our shareholders and we can’t do that in the current situation.”
Asked if he was under political pressure from European governments that part-fund Airbus to sound the alarm, Williams said: “I’m an engineer not a politician, I have to deal in certainty and we need to have clarity. We can’t continue with the current vacuum in terms of clarity.”
Earlier, Williams said: “While Airbus understands that the political process must go on, as a responsible business we require immediate details on the pragmatic steps that should be taken to operate competitively.
“Without these, Airbus believes that the impacts on our UK operations could be significant. We have sought to highlight our concerns over the past 12 months, without success. Far from “project fear”, this is a dawning reality for Airbus. Put simply, a no-deal scenario directly threatens Airbus’s future in the UK.”
In a risk assessment of the Brexit process published on Thursday, Airbus, which generates £1.7bn in UK tax revenues [pdf], gave a damning analysis of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. It said leaving the single market, and the customs union and the European court of justice would heavily disrupt its supply chain.
The risk assessment said operating under WTO rules could cost the company billions of pounds every week in loss of turnover and delay penalties. In the event of a no deal, the aerospace firm said it would be forced to reconsider its footprint in the UK, putting thousands of high-skilled jobs at risk.
In what the company called an “orderly” Brexit scenario with an agreement and transition period, the aerospace giant warned the current transition endpoint of December 2020 did not give the business enough time to reconfigure its supply chain and was likely to cause production disruption.