Having already cut production in its plant on Merseyside, the Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) plant in Birmingham is having its production lines reduced, in part over fears of uncertainty regarding Brexit.
Over a four-week Christmas period, no cars were produced at the Castle Bromwich plant, though a JLR spokesperson said that there had been no job losses. According to the giants of car manufacturing, a lack of consumer confidence in the industry (in part due to Brexit) has led to the decision to slow UK production, alongside a fall in demand for Diesel engines over environmental concerns.
According to the Financial Times, the first half of 2017 saw only £322 million invested in the UK’s car industry, down from £1.66 billion over 2016 and £2.5 billion before that. The figures do suggest a correlation between the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in June 2016 and the lack of success in the UK is experiencing in the automotive industry. The statistics also show that Birmingham is not alone in having cuts to its production lines; Professor David Bailey of Aston Business School has warned that Nissan could follow suit in decreasing production in Britain in favour of the Continent. A key factor in whether or not other major manufacturers choose to remain in the UK or move overseas is said to be the negotiation of freedom of movement of goods to and from the EU.
Nissan Sunderland- who made one in every three vehicles produced in the UK in 2015- would be the most significant loss to the British industry, but Bailey would not be surprised to see ‘shifting production from the UK at the time of new model launches, especially if uncertainty can be used to justify it.’
At a local level, the loss of Jaguar Land Rover would mean the loss of hundreds of jobs. In October 2016, four months after the Brexit vote, JLR released 260 agency staff and the closures in Merseyside are perhaps a bad omen for the Castle Bromwich plant. Cuts at the Halewood assembly, near Liverpool, makes 6000 jobs uncertain in the second quarter of the financial year. In Birmingham, the lack of production over Christmas is being followed up by two weeks of shutdowns at the end of January and the beginning of February, despite JLR claiming a seventh successive year of growth.
A common factor in the struggling manufacturers in the North-East, the North-West and Birmingham are the largely working-class population who would make up the bulk of the workers at such plants.
However, two of these regions voted to leave the European Union, with a majority of 61.3% in Sunderland and a lesser 50.4% in Birmingham voting in favour of Brexit. The vote could be viewed as a self-destructive act by the British working class; speaking to The Guardian in October, the government’s Europe Minister Sir Alan Duncan said that the leave vote was a ‘tantrum’ regarding the effect of immigration on working-class employment which ultimately may, as he predicted, ‘cause us a lot of damage.’
While the lasting damage of the leave vote on the automotive industry in the Midlands and indeed in the UK will not be truly revealed until the big-hitters in the industry release their next generation of vehicles, the decreasing annual investment and uncertainty regarding jobs does not appear too hopeful. What does seem evident from Duncan’s words and the statistics from the vote is that, if the worst were to occur, the primary factor would be self-inflicted damage, particularly from the British working classes in voting to leave the European Union on the grounds of immigration.