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Honda to close British plant, affecting at least 3,500 jobs

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Honda to close British plant, affecting at least 3,500 jobs
Honda will close its Civic hatchback plant in Swindon, Britain, the Japanese automaker said Tuesday. Photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The British auto industry took another hit Tuesday when Honda announced it would close its plant in Swindon, about 80 miles west of London.

The Honda Civic hatchback plant employs about 3,500 people plus another 3,500 from subsidiaries and supply chain partners who rely on the plant, which the automaker said will close in 2021. The closure is part of a global consolidation for Honda, which will also close a Civic sedan plant in Turkey.

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Honda said the move comes as it "accelerates its commitment to electrified cars, in response to the unprecedented changes in the global automotive industry." Honda plans to import electric vehicles from Japan and China into Europe and boost production of the Civic in North America.

Unlike other automakers, Honda said the closure has nothing to do with Brexit. But some British lawmakers aren't buying it and are pointing the finger at the ruling Conservative Party.

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"With Honda saying Brexit was not a factor, this Tory government shoulders yet more responsibility to create an environment of business confidence," said Labor Party business secretary Rebecca Long. "Businesses have lost faith in the government's austerity program and total lack of vision or investment for our future."

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Society of Motor Manufacturers CEO Mike Hawes said this is a huge blow because it puts so many highly skilled and productive workers out of a job.

"The challenges facing Honda are not unique. The global automotive industry is facing fundamental changes: technological, commercial and environmental, as well as escalating trade tensions, and all manufacturers are facing difficult decisions," Hawes said. "The UK should be at the forefront of these changes, championing its competitiveness and innovation, rather than having to focus resources on the need to avoid a catastrophic 'no-deal' Brexit."

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The workers were sent home after receiving the news Tuesday morning. It's expected workers will be phased out as the plan winds down over the next two years.

Unite, a union which represents many workers from the plant, refuses to give up on the plant's skilled and dedicated workforce.

"If the government had delivered a strong and stable Brexit that protected the economy and jobs, we may well have been in a very different position today," Unite official Des Quinn said.

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Nissan had planned build a plant to make the X-Trail sport utility vehicle in Sunderland, Britain, but those plans were canceled because of Brexit uncertainty.

European automakers are also bracing for new U.S. tariffs.

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