THE boss of one of the UK’s biggest car manufacturers has dealt a blow to David Cameron’s plans for a European Union referendum after warning his company would have to consider leaving if Britain exits the EU.
The head of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, whose company has helped turn the UK into a net producer of cars, issued his warning as MPs were debating a private member’s bill on setting up a referendum which has the backing of the Prime Minister and Tory leadership.
His comments reflect disquiet about an EU exit voiced earlier this week at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
And it has raised the prospect of major international companies exiting the UK if it leaves the EU.
The warning has also been taken up by the SNP as proof that only independence will guarantee Scottish businesses access to the EU.
Speaking at the launch of Nissan’s new Qashqai model, Mr Ghosn said: “If anything has to change we would need to reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future.”
But he added that he considered such an exit unlikely.
The new Qashqai will be built at Nissan’s Sunderland site, which employs 6,500 workers.
The Prime Minister has promised a vote on EU membership in 2017 if the Conservatives win the next general election in 2015.
However, Lord Jones of Birmingham – who as Digby Jones was director general of the CBI – said Britain must be ready to leave the EU to boost its competitiveness in the open market.
He warned that the EU was a “job destroyer” and that leaving would not be an “unattractive option”.
Asked about the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, Mr Ghosn said: “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.”
SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said: “These comments are clear – a No vote is the only threat to Scotland’s place in the European Union and to investment.
“This blows another hole in claims from the anti-independence campaign that the referendum is deterring investment – when in fact the opposite is true.”
John Mills, co-chairman of the Business for Britain group, which is seeking reform of the UK’s EU membership, said: “If there’s renegotiation then a much larger proportion of British business would want to stay in. I think Mr Ghosn would be wise to support what we say, which is to push for these negotiations to be successfully accomplished.”
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said in a tweet: “The comments of Nissan’s CEO underline the absurdity of Tories promising more investment and exports while seeking to take us out of the EU.”
But Ukip general secretary and European election candidate Jonathan Arnott said: “I am sure Nissan’s investment into the UK will continue when Britain leaves the EU.”
Europe delay will cost us dear, says Tory MP
A Tory MP has warned his party it risks losing the 2015 election if it declines to bring forward the EU referendum vote to next year.
Adam Afriyie called on members across all sides of the House to acknowledge the will of their constituents by granting them a say on Britain’s membership of the European Union sooner rather than later.
He said: “We Conservatives are completely united in wanting to give the British people a voice on Europe.
“We would have actually had a referendum by now if the Lib Dems hadn’t held us back in coalition.”
Addressing the Labour benches, he added: “It is disgraceful that they want to gag the British people and deny them a say on this incredibly important issue. Labour seem determined to gag the British people, when eight out of 10 constituents want to have their voices heard on Europe.”
In a swipe at his own party hierarchy, which supports a referendum in 2017, he said: “We are completely united as a party in wanting a say for the British people. We have a difference on timing.
“And it strikes me that the majority of our constituents and the British people want a referendum before the next election.
“I’ve never known a time in British politics when the political establishment has become so disconnected, so remote and so out of touch with public opinion. Politicians have wilfully kicked this can down the road further and further and I think we are in danger of doing so today.”
Mr Afriyie – once the subject of speculation that he could challenge David Cameron for the Tory leadership – acknowledged he had little support from fellow eurosceptics within his party.
He said: “It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride getting here today, to say the least, and particularly amongst my colleagues.”