In January 2016, five months before the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, political campaign Leave.EU shared an ad on social media assuring voters that automakers would not close up shop in the UK in the event of Brexit. The tweet linked to a Breitbart article listing commitments by carmakers to staying in the UK.
Three years later, and just weeks before Brexit is scheduled to happen, one of the biggest carmakers listed in the ad, Honda, announced it would shutter its only UK plant, causing 3,500 direct job losses and potentially thousands more down the supply chain.
As a thread in the UK Politics subreddit noted, the Honda news is just one example of how poorly the pro-Leave ad has aged.
The ad displayed logos from seven major car brands: Honda, Bentley, Ford, Mini, Nissan, Toyota, and Vauxhall. Since then, as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit has mounted, all of these carmakers have either been hit with Brexit-related costs, revised their UK manufacturing operations, or warned they would pack up and depart after Brexit becomes official on March 29.
To be sure, Brexit isn’t the only factor that explains why automakers have adjusted operations in the two years since the UK voted to leave the EU. Still, it has proved an undeniable challenge to the automotive sector, which employs more than 850,000 people in the UK.
Here’s a quick recap:
The Japanese automaker has said its Swindon factory closure is unrelated to Brexit. But many, including some factory workers, are casting doubt on this claim—saying Brexit uncertainty and the prospect of EU tariffs on UK-made cars following a no-deal scenario aided the decision.
The British luxury carmaker has already announced it would stop using the port of Dover to bring in parts from the EU, opting for Immingham, more than 200 miles north, instead. It might also close its plant in Crewe for a few extra days to prep for a possible no-deal Brexit.
Last week, Ford warned prime minister Theresa May it might shift some manufacturing outside the UK due to Brexit. In a statement, the automaker said it will “take whatever action is necessary to preserve the competitiveness of our European business.” The company employs 13,000 workers in Britain.
The marquee British brand announced it would move up its annual month-long closure of its UK plant for maintenance to April, in order to minimize any Brexit-related costs in the potentially tumultuous weeks after the UK leaves the EU.
The Japanese automaker has ditched plans to produce its X-Trail SUV in the UK, opting to manufacture it in Japan instead (weak demand for diesel played a factor in the decision). It’s also already cut hundreds of jobs at Sunderland, the UK’s largest car factory, where 7,000 people work. It stated Brexit was not a factor.
The company warned earlier this month that it would suspend its UK production in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Its two manufacturing plants in the UK employ about 3,000 workers.
The British automaker has warned of “dramatic consequences” for its two UK plants if a no-deal Brexit comes about. It is also stockpiling parts as it prepares for Brexit uncertainties, and like Mini might move its planned maintenance downtime forward for at least one plant to coincide with Brexit day.
Revisiting the ad in light of Honda’s departure serves as a reminder of how shaky pro-Brexit promises, once issued so confidently, have become. The remaining automakers may or may not leave the UK after Brexit—but the associated risks, particularly of a no-deal departure, have already made them tap the brakes.