Car giant BMW will shut its main British manufacturing factory immediately after Brexit day next year for several weeks, because of the rising risk of a “no-deal” divorce, Sky News has learned.
The Mini plant in Oxford will not produce cars for at least a month from 1 April 2019, as the German giant activates the next stage of its no-deal contingency plans.
During the referendum campaign, a number of high profile Leave campaigners claimed that an exit deal with the EU was inevitable because BMW would lobby German Chancellor Angela Merkel for one.
David Davis, who later went on to become Brexit secretary, claimed in February 2016 that the UK is “too valuable a market for Europe to shut off”.
He added: “Within minutes of a vote for Brexit the CEOs of Mercedes, BMW, VW and Audi will be knocking down Chancellor Merkel’s door demanding that there be no barriers to German access to the British market.”
The development shows one of Europe’s most successful and influential companies revealing how disruptive it expects no-deal to be, and its lack of faith in a deal being reached.
Workers have been told that the annual summer maintenance shutdown will have to be moved to April, as the company is obliged to take action against its fears of a shutdown of the cross-channel supplies required to make its cars.
BMW and the rest of the car industry have long warned the government, both privately and in public, of the Brexit threat, and in particular of the no-deal impact to its “just in time” supply chains.
Sky News visited the Oxford factory last year, revealing the shock at government not knowing what the terms of a future relationship with the EU27 would be.
The temporary shutdown will cost millions, and will have a knock-on effect for thousands of workers across the BMW supply chain.
The government has ordered pharmaceutical to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines, while industry sources say that a no-deal Brexit would make the Channel Tunnel so congested it would effectively be blocked for two weeks.
A further two weeks of emergency diplomacy between the UK government and the EU to re-establish the rules for some form of free flowing trade are also expected.
A BMW spokesperson told Sky News: “Planned annual maintenance periods at BMW Group production sites allow essential updating and equipment replacement to be completed over several weeks, while there is no production taking place.
“As a responsible organisation, we have scheduled next year’s annual maintenance period at MINI Plant Oxford to start on 1 April, when the UK exits the EU, to minimise the risk of any possible short-term parts-supply disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“While we believe this worst case scenario is an unlikely outcome, we have to plan for it.
“We remain committed to our operations in Britain, which is the only country in the world where we manufacture for all three of our automotive brands.”
The move comes after the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover warned that supply bottlenecks resulting from a no-deal Brexit could bring a halt to production at the company’s UK car plants.