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Nissan scraps its plans to build X-Trail at Sunderland plant

By David Wilcock

A senior Nissan boss blasted Brexit "uncertainty" as he confirmed that the company had scrapped plans to build the X-Trail 4x4 at its Sunderland plant.

Gianluca de Ficchy, the Japanese firm's Europe chairman, said that the decision had been taken for "business reasons" affected by rules on diesel engines and reduced sales.

The announcement that the X-Trail would be built in Japan was made in a letter to staff that followed a day of political rows between Brexit supporters and opponents over the reason for one of Wearside's largest employers reneging on a 2016 decision to build the car there.

In yesterday's letter, Mr de Ficchy said: "Today's announcement will be interpreted by a lot of people as a decision related to Brexit.

"We have taken this decision for the business reasons I've explained, but clearly the uncertainty around the UK's future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "The Conservatives' botched negotiations and threat of a no-deal Brexit is causing uncertainty and damaging Britain's economy."

And Sharon Hodgson, the area's Labour MP, said: "This is a great loss of future investment in Sunderland and I am sure that people will share my huge disappointment and concern at this news.

"Tomorrow I will be seeking answers from Government ministers as a matter of urgency".

The announcement came as two senior Cabinet ministers rejected the idea of the UK remaining in a customs union as the price of getting a Brexit deal.

Labour wants the UK to remain in some sort of customs union as part of a withdrawal agreement.

But Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he believed Tory backbenchers would kill off such a plan even if it received Labour support in the Commons.

And International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, asked on Sky's Ridge on Sunday if he could "stomach" a customs union to achieve a deal, simply said: "No."

Their interventions came after Theresa May had said she would be "battling for Britain" when she returns to Brussels to seek a "pragmatic" Brexit deal that can win over both the European Union and her own MPs.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, she suggested that Labour leader Mr Corbyn had agreed with her that the Irish border backstop as set out in the withdrawal agreement had to change.

However, Mrs May was warned she may be opposed by her own Eurosceptic backbenchers if the deal she gets falls short of their expectations.

European Research Group deputy chairman Steve Baker tweeted that there could be "trouble ahead" and suggested changes to the backstop may not satisfy them.

"Leave-backing MPs voted to support alternative arrangements in NI (Northern Ireland) but with grave misgivings about the whole agreement," he wrote.

"Now the PM co-opts us into accepting everything but the backstop and, on the backstop, accepting a codicil.

"The right way forward is the Malthouse Compromise.

"If all we see is a codicil - a 'joint interpretative instrument' - expect a further substantial defeat for the agreement."

Mr Javid also denied reports that Downing Street was planning a summer general election.

He told Andrew Marr that the Tories were only planning for a local election to take place in May as planned, adding: "I think the last thing this country needs is a general election."

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