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OPINION: UK government must give industry Brexit clarity

For all its corporate reshaping, Airbus is still a highly political animal, and remains attuned to the winds blowing from Berlin and Paris.

With that in mind, there can be little question that Katherine Bennett, the head of its UK operation, knew exactly what she was saying when she warned parliamentarians that Brexit risked jeopardising the future of its wing production in the country.

Airbus has two sites in the UK: Filton, near Bristol, and Broughton in North Wales, the latter making the wings for the airframer’s entire civil range.

Wing expertise is, as Bennett puts it, the “jewel in the crown” of aerospace design and manufacturing.

Of course, it would not be easy for Airbus to simply up sticks from either site, particularly during a period when its focus is on getting its products out of the door, and doing so at a faster rate than ever.

The airframer will not place at risk output ramp-ups now, but the litmus test will be the next programme, or the one after that.

Will Airbus continue to invest in its UK sites if they cannot remain competitive against other locations? Bennett thinks not, pointing out that other countries are already “knocking at the door”.

Although parts for transport-category aircraft are tariff-free under World Trade Organization rules, added customs bureaucracy and varying certification standards are the sort of headaches Airbus can well do without.

One also imagines, although Bennett did not say it, that if the UK is unable to give Airbus the assurances of a “soft Brexit”, then it would much rather invest in any of its three home markets, or even a potential partner like Poland, than give more money to les rosbifs.

Short of ending the whole Brexit madness, the next best thing will be for the government to present the country’s aerospace industry with tangible solutions to the issues it will be facing in less than 18 months’ time.

Brexiteers blame Brussels for the deadlock, citing an unwillingness to engage in trade talks, but the fact remains that these problems were predicted from day one.

The UK government believes the country’s aerospace and high-tech manufacturing sectors are vital components of its future growth, post-Brexit.

It is right to think so, but unless there is a cohesive and coherent strategy underpinning those words, the industry will be unable to fulfil its promise.

It is not too late to bring order from this shambles, but the clock is ticking.

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