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POST TIME: 20 February, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 19 February, 2019 09:45:49 PM
Japan’s Honda to shut UK plant; 3,500 jobs at risk
AFP, Tokyo

Japan’s Honda to shut UK plant; 3,500 jobs at risk

A worker passes an entrance gate at the Honda manufacturing plant in Swindon, southwest England on Tuesday. Honda announced yesterday it would shut a major plant in Britain, putting 3,500 jobs at risk as the auto manufacturer became the latest Japanese firm to downsize operations as Brexit looms. AFP photo

Honda announced yesterday it would shut a major plant in Britain, putting 3,500 jobs at risk as the auto manufacturer became the latest Japanese firm to downsize operations as Brexit looms. The factory in Swindon, southwest England, is Honda's only EU plant and has produced the manufacturer's "Civic" model for more than 24 years, with 150,000 units rolling off the line annually. The plant will shut in 2021, Honda announced, "at the end of the current model's production lifecycle".

The decision "has not been taken lightly and we deeply regret how unsettling today's announcement will be for our people," said Katsushi Inoue, chief officer for European regional operations, in a statement. The firm blamed "unprecedented changes in the global automotive industry" for the decision but it comes amid investment uncertainty in Britain ahead of the country's exit from the EU.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Honda president Takahiro Hachigo said: "I'd like you to understand this is not related to Brexit."

He said it was "very

regrettable" to have to close the plant but said it was the "best choice" given the need to reduce production capacity and reform its global

facilities.

The firm also announced it would stop manufacturing the Civic model in Turkey in 2021.

Honda joins fellow car giant Nissan as well as Japanese firms Sony, Panasonic and Hitachi in scaling back operations in Britain ahead of the country's departure from the European Union.

Analysts say that while Brexit was almost certainly a factor for Honda, other reasons were likely to have played a part, including a massive EU-Japan free-trade agreement recently signed and the wider struggles of the car industry.

"Honda seems to have been preparing for this for a long time. Then Brexit happened, which might have pushed the company to make the decision now," Seiji Sugiura, analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute, told the news agency.

Speaking ahead of the formal decision, local finance worker Sue Davis, 49, told AFP the move would be "devastating" for the area.

"I think Swindon's finished without Honda. My ex-husband works there, has done for 20 years. He's going to be without a job, so I just think it's really, really bad news."

Local MP Justin Tomlinson tweeted ahead of Tuesday's announcement that the decision had been made "based on global trends and not Brexit as all European market production will consolidate in Japan in 2021".

Earlier this month, Nissan axed production of the X-Trail SUV in the Brexit-backing northeast city of Sunderland, despite government assurances over the consequences from the EU exit.

Nissan Europe chairman Gianluca de Ficchy said then that the cuts were made "for business reasons" but admitted that "the continued uncertainty around the UK's future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future."

Auto giant Toyota also warned in February there would be no way to avoid a negative impact in the event of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.