Ian Robertson is choosing his words carefully

Ian Robertson is choosing his words carefully

Ian Robertson, BMW Group's special representative in the UK, has stressed BMW's commitment to manufacturing in the UK and criticised 'polarising headlines' as the UK government's EU exit negotiations enter a critical phase.

Media reports have suggested that BMW has warned it could move production bases out of the UK if Brexit seriously disrupts the supply chain.  

Robertson told a media briefing at the SMMT's International Automotive Summit that "stories have been taken somewhat out of context."

"What we don't need is headlines that are polarising either way. What we need is truth and facts and clarity," he said. "Investment requires certainty and all of us [in the industry] are seeking clarity."

Robertson noted that BMW's Oxford Mini plant brings in around 5m components a day and accounts for 250 trucks passing through the English Channel in a seamless operation that utilises a pan-European supply base. Delays or impediments would require solutions and add cost, he said. However, he also stressed that BMW is not considering moving manufacturing out of the UK.

"We need to see how the borders are going to work in the future in Europe," he said. "What we don't want to see in just-in-time manufacturing is any delays or impediments to that process. If we do see delays, we will clearly have to make investments to overcome some of it - and that makes the industry less competitive, whether its new warehousing or customs systems that probably have to be committed before the end of this year, depending on how things are looking  from a political point of view.

"Those are delays which potentially result in production being slowed for hours or maybe days at a time.

"What was not meant was that we are thinking of taking our plants to other countries in the world. We have to really avoid the polarising headlines right now, because it is not helpful for the 8,000 workers we have in the UK, it's not helpful for our suppliers and it simply isn't the case."

Robertson also said that the UK government is listening to industry, but noted that it is in a political negotiation with Brussels and suggested that some red lines may be redrawn when it comes to the final agreement between the UK and the EU.

"There are systems being analysed - none of which appear to give us what we already have [completely frictionless trade with the EU]. We want to have what we already have. We accept that Britain is leaving the European Union, but that doesn't mean it has to leave certain parts of the process of the European Union - regulation being one and borders being another.

"Ultimately, red lines are being drawn that might not be there when the final agreement is in place."

"The industry in the UK has seen a resurgence underpinned by the free flow of materials in and out - a borderless environment. We shouldn't give up on that. I recognise that it is a negotiation between politicians, but ultimately red lines are being drawn that might not be there when the final agreement is in place."

Robertson said it would be foolhardy for any company not to have contingency ideas underway to overcome different scenarios. "That's our focus right now," he said. "We have a group of people working on the customs aspects, a group working on logistics aspects and we have people working on how to handle scenarios such as working outside of the customs union, outside of the single market and potentially with a different regulatory framework."

He also described Brexit as 'potentially distracting' from the huge opportunities ahead in a rapidly developing auto industry and noted how highly competitive the global auto industry is. And the industry in the UK has seen a considerable resurgence in recent decades, with production rising to almost 1.7m cars a year. "I don't want to see anything knock the UK auto industry off track," he said.

BMW factories in the UK make Mini brand cars (Oxford), Rolls-Royce cars (Goodwood), body pressings (Swindon) and engines (Hams Hall). BMW Group says it employs around 8,000 people directly in the UK with an additional 14,000 in its 147-strong Retailer network representing BMW and Mini brands. The company has invested nearly GBP2bn in its UK operations since 2000, and the UK is BMW Group's fourth largest sales market in the world. 

See also: BMW threatens UK plants closure if Brexit slows supply chain