Jeremy Hunt: Airbus's threat to pull out of UK over Brexit was 'completely inappropriate'

Harry Yorke
The Health Secretary has urged the public to ignore the “siren voices” of multinational companies - REUTERS

Jeremy Hunt has attacked big businesses which are threatening to pull out of Britain over Brexit as he claims that last week’s intervention by Airbus was “completely inappropriate”.

The Health Secretary has urged the public to ignore the “siren voices” of multinational companies who are making “threats” that undermine the Government’s negotiating position and will make it harder to secure a good deal.

Mr Hunt, who voted to Remain in the EU Referendum, said that at an “absolutely critical moment” in the Brexit negotiations with Brussels, the intervention by Airbus made an undesirable “fudge” agreement more likely.

His criticism of Airbus, an aeronautical manufacturer which employs 14,000 people in Britain, comes days after Tom Williams, its chief executive, claimed that it could pull out of the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The intervention, which comes just weeks before a crucial summit of European leaders next month, was heavily criticised by Government ministers and MPs, who accused the firm of making “ridiculous and empty threats”.

Wading into the row on Sunday, Mr Hunt said that Airbus’s comments were a transparent attempt to undermine the Prime Minister, making it more likely that an “absolute disaster” would result from the Brexit negotiations.

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"I thought it was completely inappropriate for businesses to be making these kinds of threats for one very simple reason,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

"We are at an absolutely critical moment in the Brexit discussions and what that means is that we need to get behind Theresa May to deliver the best possible Brexit - a clean Brexit.

"What businesses want... is clarity and certainty and the more that we undermine Theresa May the more likely we are to end up with a fudge, which would be an absolute disaster for everyone."

Mr Hunt added that it was unsurprising that multinational companies had “qualms” about Britain leaving the EU, but that the Government had to “stand firm” and deliver on its commitments on Brexit.

“At this stage in the negotiations things feel pretty tricky because the European Commission has got absolutely no interest at all in saying that 'these Brexit negotiations are going swimmingly well; well done Team Britain and we will have a good deal',” he continues.

"They were always going to be saying that this was going to be very, very tricky. This is part of their negotiating tactics.

"We have to stand firm in this situation, ignore these Siren voices and get on and support Theresa May."

Airbus’ UK locations in 2015

His comments were echoed by Steve Brine, the minister for public health, who said that the intervention had not been “particularly helpful”.

“They say they’re worried about a no deal. Well why don’t we focus on there being a deal, which is what the Government has said they want there to be,” he added.

“Some people are still fighting the last war.There was very good progress at the Spring council, then there was the implementation period that the Prime Minister got too.”

Meanwhile, Lord Digby Jones,a former Labour minister and director general of the CBI, there was no "doubt" in his mind that Germany and Brussels had exerted pressure on Airbus to make its concerns public.

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Airbus, which has manufacturing facilities in France, Germany and Spain and has received billions of pounds in EU subsidies, denies that political pressure was a factor in its decision to speak out.

"Without doubt...Germany will have said to Airbus ‘twist the screw, go public, put the pressure on’. And that’s what they will have done," Lord Digby Jones told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics.

“I used to do this stuff. I can tell you now, there will have a phone call from Berlin to Brussels, from Brussels into Airbus, saying twist the screw, and now is the time.

"If I was Barnier sitting in Brussels, I would do nothing. I would just let the remain camp, and the establishment do the job for me. And it’s working a treat."