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Airbus warns no-deal Brexit could spark 'very harmful decisions'

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Airbus chief Tom Enders on Thursday warned the European aerospace giant could make "very harmful decisions" for Britain if it leaves the European Union without a deal, the latest multinational to issue a stark alert.

[LONDON] Airbus chief Tom Enders on Thursday warned the European aerospace giant could make "very harmful decisions" for Britain if it leaves the European Union without a deal, the latest multinational to issue a stark alert.

Mr Enders branded the government's handling of Brexit a "disgrace" and suggested 14,000 jobs at its sites designing and manufacturing wings at Filton in southwest England and Broughton in north Wales were under threat.

"If there is a no-deal Brexit, we at Airbus will have to make potentially very harmful decisions for the UK," Mr Enders warned in a video published on the group's website.

The German CEO said that up to 110,000 jobs in Britain relied on its British plants, which generate around £6 billion (S$10.6 billion) of turnover every year.

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The country's whole aerospace sector "now stands at the precipice," he added.

The Franco-German firm, which has repeatedly stated that Brexit could mean pulling investment out of Britain, also expressed deep frustration over Prime Minister Theresa May's faltering Brexit strategy.

"It is a disgrace that more than two years after the result of the 2016 referendum, businesses are still unable to plan properly for the future," Mr Enders said.

"We, along with many of our peers, have repeatedly called for clarity.

"But we still have no idea what is really going on here."

The aviation giant's relationship with the EU has itself been under scrutiny recently, with the World Trade Organization last year ruling the firm received improper subsidies from the bloc after the US argued it had given US$22 billion in state aid to help launch the A380 and A350 jets.

British lawmakers last week roundly rejected the divorce terms Mrs May agreed with Brussels, raising fresh fears that Britain could crash out with no deal on March 29.

The nation's powerful CBI business lobby group has also expressed dismay that Mrs May had not offered a clearer way forward.

"The global market for aviation is growing at five percent each year. But we are not dependent on the UK for our future," Mr Enders said.

"Airbus will survive and thrive whatever the outcome.

"The question is: does the UK wish to be part of that future success?"

Mrs May has promised a debate and votes on the way forward on Jan 29, with MPs mulling a long list of options including a second referendum or delaying the March 29 divorce date.

But EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned on Wednesday that a parliamentary move to block a no-deal Brexit would fail unless a MPs could swing behind an alternative agreement.

"There appears to be a majority in the Commons to oppose a no-deal but opposing a no-deal will not stop a no-deal from happening" on the official March 29 departure date, he said.

"To stop 'no deal', a positive majority for another solution will need to emerge."

Mr Enders meanwhile urged Britons not to listen to "Brexiteers' madness" that multinationals would always stay in Britain.

"Please don't listen to the Brexiteers' madness which asserts that, because we have huge plants here, we will not move and we will always be here.

"They are wrong.

"Of course it is not possible to pick up and move our large UK factories to other parts of the world immediately.

"However, aerospace is a long-term business and we could be forced to re-direct future investments in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"Make no mistake, there are plenty of countries out there who would love to build the wings for Airbus aircraft."

The Airbus warning caps a torrid week for corporate Britain after Japanese electronics titan Sony decided to switch its European headquarters to the Netherlands, while UK appliance maker Dyson revealed it would move its base to Singapore in 2019.

The Dutch government revealed Wednesday that officials are in contact with more than 250 companies about a possible post-Brexit move.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, speaking to AFP at Davos on Wednesday, nonetheless insisted that Britain remains "open for business" and is still an "attractive destination" for foreign direct investment.

AFP