Airbus has warned of a “dangerous new phase” as it faces the twin threat of Brexit and the policies of the Trump administration.
Tom Williams, chief operating officer and president of commercial aircraft at the European company, told MPs on the Treasury select committee that it would be “pretty scary” if Airbus were no longer able to operate a successful UK business with the ability to seamlessly move goods and people around the European Union.
Airbus employs about 15,000 people in the UK and makes wings at its factory in Broughton, north Wales.
Williams suggested the US and its arch-rival, Boeing, would be ready to take full advantage of any negative fallout from Brexit suffered by Airbus. Boeing builds passenger planes, including the Dreamliner, at its Everett factory, 25 miles north of Seattle.
“It would be a pretty scary model if we had Airbus and we didn’t have a successful business in the UK,” Williams said. “And I’m sure there’d be many people in Seattle and in Washington that would be more than delighted to see this scenario played out because they will take every opportunity to try and undermine the success of Airbus.
“I take the view that whatever is being decided in Washington will also be done very much with what is good for Seattle. So we enter into a dangerous phase.”
As well as the UK, Airbus has major manufacturing plants in France, Germany and Spain. Williams said that while the British business was so far unaffected by Brexit, decisions to invest in the UK over the longer term were at risk.
“At the moment we’re continuing to invest and we’re still highly committed to the UK. But clearly if we see a [change to the] macroeconomic climate or a blockage to the key operational points, it won’t change our decisions day by day, but it could in the longer term,” he said.
“So when we come towards the end of this decade when there are perhaps bigger decisions about longer term product policy, and next investments, then it could become a deciding factor.”
MPs also heard that multinational car manufacturers were already putting off investment plans in the UK while uncertainty reigns about what sort of trade deal the government might strike with the EU, and how long negotiations might take.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “I believe that companies are at least sitting on their hands … until there is a bit more clarity. I sense that the amount invested over the last 12 months will not be as high as the preceding one, two, three years.”