Row erupts in Welsh Tories after Airbus job threat claim

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Andrew RT Davies
Image caption,
Andrew RT Davies says there is a "lot of hyperbole flying around" on Brexit

A row has erupted within the Conservative party after its Welsh leader accused Airbus of exaggerating the risk of job losses if a no-deal Brexit happens.

Andrew RT Davies said the European planemaker of making threats and "hyperbole" after it warned it could quit the UK.

Guto Bebb, a UK defence minister, said the comments were "inflammatory".

Airbus employs more than 6,400 people at bases in Wales.

It has warned it could leave the UK if it exits the European Union single market and customs union without a transition deal after Brexit, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said the airbus announcement was a "wake-up call".

Image caption,
Guto Bebb said the comments were inflammatory and should be withdrawn

Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies accused Airbus of making "threats".

He said: "Clearly Airbus is an important company to the United Kingdom and to Wales - but it's worth remembering that it's the dynamic highly skilled UK workforce that has made Airbus the success it has become.

"Talking so casually about de-camping to China does those workers a disservice, and you'd think that Airbus was the first company to entertain slashing costs and by extension standards - and it doesn't usually end well.

"We are getting to the business end of the negotiations, and there is a lot of hyperbole flying around."

"But it's in everyone's interest to ensure that trade remains as free and frictionless as possible once we have left the European Union", he added.

Media caption,
Economy Secretary Ken Skates says the Airbus warning is "deeply worrying"

But Guto Bebb, Conservative MP for Aberconwy, said Airbus have been "consistent in their concerns and the government shares their aspiration for an early and comprehensive deal."

Mr Bebb disputed Mr Davies' title as leader of the Welsh Conservatives and said he does not speak in such a capacity.

He told BBC Wales: "He is the leader of the assembly group and whilst I am unaware of whether he consulted his colleagues before issuing his inflammatory statement he certainly did not consult with myself as an MP in North Wales.

"Shooting the messenger is an unworthy position for a politician to take not least when that politician aspires to lead a government in Wales.

"He should retract his comments."

'Severe disruption'

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 and Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out staying in the customs union.

The pan-European aerospace and defence group employs more than 6,000 people at its wing factory at Broughton in Flintshire and about 400 people at its base in Newport - it is also estimated to support around 11,600 supply chain jobs.

In a Brexit "risk assessment", Airbus said if the UK left the EU next year without a deal - meaning it left both the single market and customs union immediately without any agreed transition period - it would "lead to severe disruption and interruption of UK production".

"This scenario would force Airbus to reconsider its investments in the UK, and its long-term footprint in the country," the company added.

Image caption,
Carwyn Jones on an assembly election campaign visit to Airbus in Broughton in 2016

In response to Mr Davies, Plaid Cymru's Simon Thomas accused the Conservatives of being "captured by Brexiteers putting ideology before working for the common good of workers and responsible businesses".

"It's a wake up call. Airbus have been saying this to us for months now privately, and they've now said it publicly," said Mr Jones, following a meeting in Guernsey with other ministers from across the UK.

Referring to "pro-Brexit politicians who have chosen to attack them for basically expressing their concerns", he said: "This is reality".

"We have a choice, we either have a very hard Brexit which makes Wales an unattractive place for Airbus which we will fight tooth and nail to avoid.

"Or we have a sensible Brexit which means that Airbus can continue to operate in conjunction with its sister plants across Europe."

'Right to expect more'

Mr Jones said that the situation is "now critical and companies are making plans based on the worst case scenario".

Firms had a right, he said, to "expect more, certainty two years on from the referendum".

Earlier on Friday, Mr Jones issued a joint statement with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urging Theresa May to pledge to stay in the EU's single market and customs union.

The politicians, who both campaigned for Remain during the 2016 EU referendum, argued the prime minister's Brexit plan was not "consistent with the national interest".

Labour Alyn and Deeside assembly member Jack Sargeant said Airbus workers at Broughton "urgently require reassurance".

"It isn't too late for the UK government to show some leadership and provide the clarity that business needs," he said, calling for an emergency statement in the Senedd.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Airbus makes wings for the A380 and other models in the UK

Ex-Conservative Welsh Secretary, Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb, also called the Airbus warning a "wake-up call", describing the north Wales factory as "one of the jewels in the crown of UK manufacturing".

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said her party would be "seeking opportunities to raise this with the Welsh and Westminster governments".

A spokesperson for the UK government said: "We have made significant progress towards agreeing a deep and special partnership with the EU to ensure trade remains as free and frictionless as possible, including in the aerospace sector, and we're confident of getting a good deal that is mutually beneficial.

"Given the good progress that we are continuing to make in the negotiations, we do not expect a no-deal scenario to arise."

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