Calls for a referendum on quitting the European Union dominated Parliament yesterday – while one of the North East biggest employers warned it may have to end investment in Britain if the EU’s opponents got their way.
The head of Nissan, which employs 6,500 people in Sunderland, said the car maker would “reconsider” its future in the UK if it left the European Union.
Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of the Japanese carmaker, publicly confirmed the carmaker’s concerns when he spoke at the launch of Nissan’s new Qashqai model.
He insisted the Sunderland plant would be safe, but said Nissan would “reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future” if Britain left the EU.
However, MPs at Westminster spent the day debating a referendum which could lead to exactly that.
A Bill demanding a referendum by 2017, proposed by Stockton South MP James Wharton, continued its progress in the Commons.
It is backed by Conservative MPs and David Cameron, although the Prime Minister and many of his backbenchers say they will then campaign for Britain to stay in the EU if a referendum goes ahead.
Labour opposes the Bill but realises it has little chance of winning a vote to block it.
Instead, Labour politicians attempted to frustrate the Tory plans by deliberately delaying proceedings, delivering long speeches and points of order.
One Labour amendment demanded the creation of a committee including representatives of the Confederation for British Industry, National Farmers Union, Trades Union Congress, National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux to debate EU membership before a referendum could be held.
Another amendment said there should be no referendum until a system was in place to allow people to vote by text message.
Meanwhile, Conservative backbencher Adam Afriyie, MP for Windsor, attempted to amend the Bill so that a referendum was held on October 23, 2014 rather than 2017.
Sunderland MP Julie Elliott condemned the MPs demanding a referendum.
She said: “The economic importance to the region of being in Europe is clear.
“140,000 jobs in the North East depend on us being in the EU.
“I’m very pleased Nissan have come out and publicly said that it is essential we remain in.”
The EU charges a 10% tariff in vehicles imported in, she said.
“It’s obvious if you have a tariff of 10% per car that cars aren’t going to be economic to be made here if we pull out of the EU.
“So being in the EU is absolutely essential to the regional economy. And anyone who suggests otherwise is just not living in the real world.”
MPs last night ran out of time to debate the Bill – and will start again on November 22.
Asked about the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, Mr Ghosn told the BBC: “Obviously it’s going to be a major factor happening and we are going to need to consider what does it mean for us for the future.
“I’m not worried about Sunderland.
“Sunderland is a very competitive plant, it’s a very productive plant and it’s a European plant based in the UK.
“If anything has to change, we need to reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future.”
Fiona Hall, Lib Dem MEP for the North East, said: “This is a stark warning about the catastrophic damage the North East economy would suffer if we were to pull out, and it is one we cannot afford to ignore.”