BUSINESS secretary Greg Clark has confirmed Nissan was secretly offered tens of millions of pounds of government support to build new cars in the UK.
Here is a timeline of what was said by whom and when about assurances to the Japanese carmaker.
September 4, 2016: Less than three months after the Brexit referendum, Japan warns about the possible impact of EU withdrawal on the country’s firms operating in the UK.
September 5, 2016: At a meeting of the G20 in Hangzhou, China, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, tells UK counterpart Theresa May to give more detail about her plans for Brexit. May says both leaders will be ‘working together to ensure that we can maintain and build on our relationship’.
September 30, 2016: Carlos Ghosn – Nissan’s chief executive at the time – says important investment decisions ‘will not be made in the dark’, stating: ‘If I need to make an investment in the next few months and I can’t wait until the end of Brexit, then I have to make a deal with the UK government.’
October 14, 2016: Ghosn meets May at Downing Street. No 10 declines to discuss the meeting. Ghosn later says he is ‘confident the government will continue to ensure the UK remains a competitive place to do business’.
October 21, 2016: Clark writes to Ghosn offering support of up to £80 million if new models are built in Sunderland. The letter is not made public.
October 27, 2016: Nissan announces it will build its next-generation Qashqai and add production of the new X-Trail model in Sunderland. On the same day, the carmaker and the government deny that a special ‘sweetheart deal’ had been made. Clark says the decision rested on ‘a very strong mutual confidence’.
October 28, 2016: Clark says no financial favours were offered, stating during an appearance on Question Time: ‘There’s no chequebook. I don’t have a chequebook.’
October 30, 2016: Clark repeats that Nissan agreed to invest after receiving ‘support and assurances’ from the government. He confirms he set out the government’s approach in a letter.
October 31, 2016: Clark declines to publish the letter, citing the need to protect Nissan’s commercially sensitive investment plans. The government strongly denies suggestions it offered the firm a ‘sweetheart deal’.
November 15, 2016: Commons treasury select committee chairman Andrew Tyrie writes to chancellor Philip Hammond calling for ‘clarity’ over the talks with Nissan.
November 30, 2016: In his reply, Hammond says assurances have not exposed the government to the possibility of new financial liabilities. He says any costs arising from the assurances would be small enough to be covered within the Department for Business’s existing departmental expenditure limits.
December 13, 2016: Tyrie says the letter sent by Clark to Ghosn should be disclosed. The head of the National Audit Office, Sir Amyas Morse, says he has reviewed the letter and is satisfied there is no ‘identifiable contingent liability’ that the department would be obliged to reveal.
December 14, 2016: Clark says he intends to publish the letter once ‘commercial confidentialities for the firm are no longer there’.
January 20, 2017: Ghosn says Nissan will review the competitiveness of its car plant in Sunderland once the final outcome of Brexit negotiations becomes clear.
October 4, 2018: Nissan warns that a hard Brexit will have ‘serious implications’ for the carmaker’s Sunderland factory.
February 4, 2019: Nissan confirms the next-generation X-Trail will instead be made in Japan. In a letter, chairman Gianluca de Ficchy blames changing emissions regulations and reduced sales forecasts in Europe, although he says Brexit uncertainty ‘is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future’. The same day it emerges Clark offered Nissan support of up to £80m to build new models in Sunderland. The new head of the treasury select committee, Nicky Morgan, writes to Clark calling for the letter to be published. It is released later that day. Morgan, a former minister, says details of the offer should have been made ‘immediately’. Clark says it was his responsibility to encourage and attract investment into Britain and it was important he did not disclose sensitive commutation with businesses.