The European commission is examining the details of the British government’s secret deal with Nissan, it can be revealed.
Officials in Brussels have made contact with the UK government to find out what promises the business secretary, Greg Clark, made the Japanese carmaker to keep its business in the UK.
The UK is not allowed to offer so-called “state aid”, such as financial assistance, to prevent countries propping up companies and industries to the disadvantage of competitors from fellow member states. The commission can table fines on member states and force the company who has benefited to return any money.
Nissan announced last month that two new car models would be built in Sunderland, saving thousands of jobs, after getting “support and assurances” from the government about the UK’s future outside the EU.
The business secretary has refused to publish a letter he sent to Nissan containing assurances over the government’s intentions with regard to Brexit because it contains sensitive commercial details.
Clark reportedly gave a “last-minute written promise” to Nissan to protect the company from the consequences of Brexit, including tariffs on exports from the UK.
Speaking on BBC1’s Question Time last month, Clark indicated there had been no offer of financial compensation or state aid. “There’s no cheque book. I don’t have a cheque book,” he said.
A European commission spokesman said: “We have seen press reports regarding this issue. As a result, the commission at services level is in contact with the UK authorities. Such exchanges of information are common. In this specific case, the UK authorities have not notified any support to Nissan for assessment under EU state aid rules. We have not taken any formal views on the matter.”
The building of the Qashqai and the X-Trail SUV in Sunderland had been in doubt following the EU referendum result in June. The agreement with the government will safeguard the future of more than 7,000 jobs and was regarded as a major political success.
Theresa May hailed Nissan’s decision as “fantastic news” and a vote of confidence in the UK at the time of the announcement.
In September Nissan’s chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, said the firm would need “compensation” for tax barriers that might result from Britain leaving the European Union. Nissan’s plant in Sunderland produces about a third of the UK’s car output.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has said he is pleased there will be continued investment in Sunderland, but said concerns remained about any secret deal between the government and the carmaker.
“If there are any inducements that have been offered, and quite obviously if you are offering big inducements to one industry or one manufacturer, then all the others will quite reasonably say: ‘Well, what about us?’” he said.
European commission to examine terms of UK’s deal with Nissan – The Guardian