As the firm abandons plans to build a major new model in the city, residents fear other employers will move elsewhere
Nissan’s Washington car plant in Sunderland remained silent on Sunday morning. The only sound came from the camera crews gathered at its gates in the morning chill.
Just hours earlier, the Japanese carmaker confirmed it was abandoning plans to build a new model of one of its flagship vehicles at the plant. At the Hylton Riverside shopping centre, just a few miles away, locals say there had been an inevitability to the announcement.
Sunderland had a sizeable pro-leave vote at 61% but now there is widespread frustration at the impact that Brexit could have on the city. Nissan employs 6,700 people at the plant.
On this morning, the shopping centre, which itself relies on trade from the Nissan workers, was quieter than usual. Those that the Guardian spoke to say they had been preparing for “bad news” – they say a sense of resignation had gripped the Tyne and Wear city in recent months.
Retired firefighter Vincent O’Neill, 55, was one of those who voted to leave. He says he now regrets his decision. His fears are about the knock-on effect on the hundreds of local businesses that rely on Nissan. “It isn’t just Nissan, it’s all the jobs in the area. As soon as one big company leaves, the rest will follow. They will all fall like dominoes,” he says.
He adds: “It’s all to do with Brexit. The firms don’t want to have to pay the tariffs for imports.
“If I had known then what I know now I wouldn’t have voted that way. All the promises that were made have not come true. I think a lot of people in Sunderland latched on to the ‘they’ve come to take our jobs’ argument. It would be a lot easier if we didn’t leave now.”
But Bob Hackett, 66, who worked as a trainee assessor at Gateshead College arranging placements for students at Nissan and whose nephew works there, was sceptical about the Brexit connection.
“I don’t think people will lose their jobs,” he says. “In my opinion it was on the cards to start with. It’s just scaremongering. I think they’re hedging their bets and waiting to find out about tariffs. They are just playing it out. I think Nissan will do anything to get more money from the government.
“They keep a lot of people around here in employment. It’s so central to the area that the government will probably subsidise any tariffs Nissan should be subjected to.”
A current employee at Nissan who did not want to be named says: “I think all of this was coming anyway.
“We weren’t going to produce the X-Trail. The money for a new model was never released. They’re just using Brexit as an excuse. I don’t think leaving the EU will even make a difference.”
Nonetheless, John Metcalfe, a 72-year-old pensioner who voted to remain, says the news has had a devastating impact on the area. “It’s a massive shock,” he says. “It’s really scary for the workers. Most of the people at Nissan voted to leave the EU and I can’t think why. I was so surprised when I saw Sunderland had voted out of the EU.
“With all the taxes and tariffs that will be imposed because of Brexit, people are going to lose jobs and we need jobs up here. There aren’t any other major employers. I really worry about the future of this city.”
Charity worker Katie Hopper, 26, talks of her frustration at those people in her city who voted to leave. She says: “I think Brexit is going to ruin Sunderland. It makes no sense that people of Sunderland and this workforce voted to leave the EU.”
The news has caused many to view the future with trepidation. One of those was Keith Scott, 35, a father of two young children, who has many close friends and family who work at the plant.
“I think it was obvious this was going to happen and of course it’s to do with Brexit. I have no idea why people voted to leave the EU,” he says.
“I know Nissan had the assurances from the government but obviously that wasn’t enough.
“Things like this are going to continue to happen until Nissan in Sunderland disappears completely, which will be devastating for the area. I dread to think of the future.”
Credit: Guardian website