Airbus flies into Britain's 'Brexit' debate

21st May 2015, Comments 0 comments

European planemaker Airbus became the latest business heavyweight Thursday to come out in favour of Britain remaining part of the European Union, as a debate over a planned referendum intensifies.

Two weeks after Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron won re-election, the business world is sounding the alarm over an in-or-out EU referendum that he has promised to hold by 2017.

"I believe that it is vital for a company such as Airbus to come out and make a stand in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union," said Paul Kahn, the president of Airbus Group UK.

"If after an exit from the European Union, economic conditions in Britain were less favourable for business than in other parts of Europe, or beyond; would Airbus reconsider future investment in the United Kingdom? Yes, absolutely," he said.

The head of Britain's biggest business lobby, the Confederation of British Industry, on Wednesday called for companies to speak out in favour of EU membership.

Cameron, whose Conservatives unexpectedly won an outright majority in the May 7 general election, is set to include EU referendum plans in the Queen's Speech, which outlines the government's legislative programme, next Wednesday.

"Business must be crystal clear that membership is in our national interest. The EU is key to our national prosperity," CBI president Mike Rake said this week.

EU membership means "letting us set the trade agenda, be part of the biggest free trade deal ever negotiated, and be able to properly compete with global giants like China and India."

Against that backdrop, many companies are eager to express their preference to stay in the EU.

Airbus, a symbol of industrial Europe, warned it could reconsider its investments if Britain leaves.

Airbus employs 17,000 people in Britain where it has several facilities, including a wing-manufacturing plant in Broughton, north Wales.

"The long-term economic risks presented by a potential British exit are huge," added Kahn, arguing it would impact the group's competitiveness and jobs.

Cameron has stated that he will advocate for Britain to stay in a reformed Europe in the upcoming referendum.

Kahn said he supported Cameron's reform intentions and was "not blindly supporting Britain's membership", adding he favoured "a leaner and more efficient EU".

Japanese car giant Nissan -- which runs Britain's largest car factory in Sunderland, northeast England, which employs more than 6,500 workers -- has hinted it would reconsider its investments in the event of Britain's EU exit.

However, British manufacturing firm JCB broke ranks with much of the business community on Monday, declaring that leaving the EU would not "make a blind bit of difference" to Britain's ability to trade.

JCB chairman Anthony Bamford added that Britain "could negotiate as our own country rather than being one of 28 nations in Brussels."

- Jitters in financial sector -

The nation's potential EU exit has meanwhile sent jitters across the financial sector, sparking questions about London's status as a financial hub in Europe.

Deutsche Bank revealed on Tuesday that it has launched a review to decide whether to relocate some operations to Germany if Britain votes to leave.

The German giant employs just under 9,000 people across 16 locations in Britain and has had a presence in the country since 1873.

The British Bankers' Association warned uncertainty over the referendum could "undermine international banks who are big employers in Britain".

Asia-focused giant HSBC warned in April it was looking into moving its headquarters from London, blaming increased regulation and taxation -- and economic uncertainty over the risk of Britain leaving Europe.

In Riga on Friday, Cameron will start face-to-face discussions at a summit with European partners on renegotiating Britain's position in the bloc ahead of the referendum.

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© 2015 AFP

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