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Airbus says Brexit could hurt UK investment

[LONDON] Airbus said on Monday that a vote for Brexit could harm its future investment in Britain where the European aerospace giant employs 15,000 people.

In an interview with AFP, Airbus Group UK chief Paul Kahn said the company can invest anywhere in the world so long as it remains globally competitive.

"If the regulatory environment changes, if the economic environment changes, then those future investment decisions could change, and that's what being put at risk by a vote to leave," he said.

British voters go to the polls on June 23 to decide whether to leave the European Union.

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"We very much hope the UK will remain in the EU," Kahn said, adding however that "that's a choice for the British people".

Airbus builds aircraft ranging from under 100 to over 600 seats and employs more than 55,000 people worldwide.

The company produces wings for its entire global fleet in Britain, where it also builds satellites and helicopters.

"It's very much an integrated operation where all different parts of the Airbus Group are working together to create a globally competitive product," Mr Kahn said.

While Airbus is sanguine on the short-term impact of any Brexit, the impact could be felt further down the line, he said.

"The issue is future investments: the next time, when we have to increase automation, increase investments, increase productivity, does that investment go to our British operations or somewhere else?" he asked.

"If that investment goes somewhere else, then the jobs and the benefits of that investment go elsewhere as well." Mr Kahn said the single European market has benefitted Airbus's integrated production structure, and fostered cultural diversity, including by allowing British staff to work in other countries.

"We make use of the benefits of the single market all the time in our day-to-day life," he said.

Airbus itself is an illustration of cross-border industrial cooperation in Europe, he said.

"We have 6,000 people making wings in North Wales and those wings are either flown on a Beluga aircraft or put on barges and shipped across in particular to Toulouse (in France). So it's very much an integrated operation where all different parts of the Airbus Group are working together to create a globally competitive product," he said.

Mr Kahn's remarks tie in with recent warnings from British finance minister George Osborne, who cited the production process of Airbus wings when he outlined risks associated with Brexit.

Prime Minister David Cameron warned Sunday that Britain would face a "lost decade" if it voted to leave the European Union.

With under two weeks to go, recent opinion polls suggest growing momentum for the "Leave" camp.

A Sunday Times/YouGov online poll found that Mr Cameron's "Remain" campaign is currently lagging the "Leave" side by 42 per cent to 43 per cent.

A further 11 per cent of people surveyed said they did not know how they would vote and four per cent said they would not take part in the ballot.