Nissan's second in command has warned against the UK leaving the European Union.
Nissan’s chief operating officer, Toshiyuki Shiga, has said the firm believes Britain’s continued membership of the EU is “very important”.
It is the latest sign that Nissan’s 6,100-strong Wearside workforce will play a role in the expected referendum on EU membership.
While some Conservatives and the United Kingdom Independence Party has said the UK can survive outside of the Union, the Liberal Democrats and Labour have warned of the jobs which could be placed at risk.
Speaking from the company’s Japan HQ, Mr Shiga said: “The UK is part of the European Union, [that] is very important. From the foreign investor point of view I hope that the UK will remain as an EU member.
“If the UK – after departing from the EU – is making unique regulations, unique standards, this would become an obstacle. If the EU side [put] import duty from the UK, that would be a big obstacle.”
More than £125m has been poured into the Nissan factory, with the company rebuilding from a jobs crisis at the beginning of the recession and now leading the way in UK manufacturing. Much of the firm’s North East success has been based around production of the Nissan Leaf, the electric vehicle set to underpin growth in the future.
Nissan’s Sunderland workforce is one of Europe’s biggest manufacturing success stories, employing thousands more in the supply chain. Mr Shiga is also believed to have hinted that the Wearside factory could be producing yet another new car in the near future. The factory has already produced more than half a million cars.
Last night Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall said Nissan was right to point out the jobs risk in leaving the EU.
She said: “As it looks more and more likely that we are heading toward an EU referendum in the coming years, we are finally seeing business leaders make clear their support for the UK staying in.
“Up to 140,000 jobs in the North East alone are linked to trade with our EU partners and, as Mr Shiga has made clear, leaving the single market would reduce our competitiveness and threaten jobs.
“It’s all too easy to criticise the EU, and UKIP and the Tories have been recklessly talking up a UK exit with scant regard to the devastating consequences for thousands of people whose jobs rely on foreign investment.
“And Nissan by no means stands alone. A poll last month showed 80% of businesses supported staying in the EU. That’s why the Liberal Democrats are unapologetically in favour of staying in the EU – it’s vital for jobs and growth.”
Earlier this year former Prime Minister John Major said Nissan was a prime example of the type of company which would suffer if it faced new charges for selling cars into an EU market for which the UK was not a member.
And the Japanese government has already warned that jobs at firms such as Nissan could be at risk if the UK leaves the European Union.
A leaked copy of Japan’s submission to the Foreign Office’s review of the relationship with Brussels said Japanese firms were attracted to the UK because it offered a gateway to the prized European market. And if that was lost, tens of thousands of British jobs with Japanese companies would be jeopardised.
But UKIP has repeatedly said the threat is not real. On a recent visit to the North East party leader Nigel Farage said: “Will there be a 10% import tariff on Mercedes? Or Moët & Chandon Champagne? Or a bottle of Rioja? No. I mean, does anyone seriously think that the UK, one of the biggest EU trading partners and for who we have a staggering trade deficit, that Nissan would find itself disadvantaged? I don’t think so.”