Aerospace bosses fear a catastrophe if European giant Airbus makes good on its threat to scale back in the UK in the event of a hard Brexit.
The head of one of the firm’s leading small business suppliers said such a scenario would be devastating for the economy.
Mark Summers, managing director of Bristol-based AVPE, said a hard Brexit could be ‘catastrophic’ for the industry and lead to the UK becoming a ‘service-led economic entity with little or no manufacturing’.
Warning: Theresa May and Airbus chief Tom Enders at Farnborough Air Show
At Farnborough International Airshow last week, Airbus – which employs 15,000 people in the UK – renewed warnings that it might reduce its operations in Britain.
Summers believes Brexit uncertainty has led to a ‘hiatus’, with big firms pausing on UK investment – and that this is having a knock-on effect down the supply chain.
He added: ‘If they’re not investing, my confidence in investing is greatly reduced.’
Other aerospace firms share Airbus’s fears about losing ‘frictionless trade’ with the EU, though many are reluctant to speak out.
They are worried too about UK firms being barred from working on the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system. Products made by British-based firms are also at risk of losing recognition under the European Aviation Safety Agency, which certifies they are environmentally sound and not dangerous.
A withdrawal by Airbus would have a major knock-on effect for the industry as a whole.
‘There is a symbiotic relationship between companies when they’re working at the very top of engineering – the more firms you have in a cluster, the better overall,’ said Peter Ruddock, UK boss of US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
He declined to comment on Airbus specifically, but said Lockheed – an employer of 2,000 in the UK – is ‘optimistic’.
Boeing, another US giant that employs 2,000 in this country, has also attempted to stay out of the UK public debate. European boss Sir Michael Arthur said: ‘We in private tell [the government] what we need, they tell us what we need to hear, or they’re reassuring.
‘What is important to the whole aerospace industry is that parts in the supply chain move across the borders all the time.
‘So the whole industry wants to see a solution with relatively easy, free, frictionless trade.’