In November 2013 the establishment media swung into gear behind the comments of Nissan executive Carlos Ghosn who raised questions over the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union. “If anything has to change, we [would] need to reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future,” Ghosn said. A pretty non-descript, unspecific statement of fact that most CEOs would use with regards trade deals and the due diligence that surrounds them.
The Telegraph jumped on it, as did the Independent, the Mail, the Times, the Financial Times, the Express, the Star, the Huffington Post, ITV, the Scotsman, and basicallly every local paper in the country.
At the time, the BBC’s industry correspondent John Moylan described the non-announcement announcement as a “bombshell”. Thousands of jobs could go. Other companies might be thinking the same thing. Doom, gloom, insecurity, we’re putting everything at risk, they cried.
And maybe that was fair enough. Although it really wasn’t. But let’s assume it was. Nissan is responsible for around 34,000 direct and indirect jobs in the UK, and the Sunderland plant creates around half a million vehicles a year. The media was simply interpretting some comments by the CEO of oneo of the largest companies in the world – and reporting it as fact. No change there then.
But you might ask why there was no similar reaction when just a few days ago, Paul Wilcox, the Chairman of Nissan Europe confirmed that the company had no plans to pull out of the United Kingdom, whether Britain voted in or out in the European referendum.
Wilcox was as by the BBC’s Justin Webb whether or not this meant Nissan didn’t care about the result of an EU referendum. Wilcox replied: “Nissan is a global company and we want to ensure that Nissan has the opportunity to operate as freely as possible in all markets around the world. Europe as a region is very important to Nissan, it’s a growth region for Nissan. We have a very long term commitment, we don’t manage our business on short-term cycles. Our Sunderland plant is the beacon for global manufacturing excellence for Nissan.”
So far, so non-commital.
Webb then asked, “Yeah, that’s exactly the point the Eurosceptics are going to make, isn’t it, that actually it’s really called your bluff in a way – or the bluff of what people at Nissan have previously said – because actually you’re pretty confident that this can be an important plant for you into the longer term future, and you don’t know what the result of the referendum is going to be, but either way the plant will be fine?”
“Yes, in terms of the mid-term I think today’s announcement shows that there is a commitment, it shows that through to 2020 we have made that investment,” replied Wilcox.
Webb pressed again, presumably hoping for a Europhile answer: “But you’re not going to reverse this, if we had the referendum and the result was ‘No’, it is a commitment?”
“Yes of course it is a commitment, we make these long term commitments. The most important thing, we lose sight of the fact that we have a fantastic success story in the North East, we build half a million cars a year, it is probably the most productive car plant in Western Europe, and I would argue globally. That’s a great credit not only to Nissan in terms of investment but also the workforce in the North East, and I think if you understand what that means in terms of our competitiveness, our position in terms of competitiveness is driven by not only the situation in Europe in terms of whether we’re in or out of the EU, but more importantly the commitment of the people in the North East, the supply chain we have in the UK, and I think the focus should be really in that area because that is why we have such a great success story; it’s the combined impact of our investment but also the supply chain and a great workforce.” [Emphasis added]
A pretty clear statement then, right? Nissan, like most other big companies, doesn’t base their long-term plans on EU membership. It might be one consideration amongst many, but it certainly wouldn’t cause the company to abandon its UK operations.
The question is: where were the media headlines about this?