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Glemsford factory's closure warning due to Brexit uncertainty 'not a bluff', says MP

Staff at the Philips Avent factory in Glemsford. (3369400)
Staff at the Philips Avent factory in Glemsford. (3369400)

The MP for South Suffolk says one of the area’s biggest employers is not bluffing about Brexit, after meeting bosses about what would happen to their Glemsford factory if no deal is reached with the European Union.

Philips Avent, which employs 500 people at a baby care product manufacturing plant in Lower Road, has warned it is preparing for the worst-case scenario, due to the uncertainty around the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU.

James Cartlidge met the company’s chief executive, Frans Van Houten, and Neil Mesher, who heads the operations in Glemsford, on Thursday to discuss the issues, and determined it is clear there is a very real risk the site would close if a ‘hard Brexit’ occurs.

He said: “Unfortunately, my conclusion from speaking directly to the CEO is Philips is not bluffing on Brexit.

“Mr Van Houten could not have been clearer with me in the conversation; in the event of a ‘no deal’ WTO Brexit, it is not a question of the firm waiting to see how it will be affected.

“If such an outcome transpired, it would immediately implement an existing plan to relocate production elsewhere, most likely to mainland Europe.”

Mr Cartlidge explained the company emphasised it does not want to take such drastic steps and hopes a deal will be established that maintains frictionless trade.

He pointed out that while many Brexit supporters are angry the Prime Minister proposes maintaining a common rule book on industrial goods with the EU, Philips has to follow those rules anyway for its trade, so a new UK rule book would simply add a new layer of red tape.

“It is striking to hear of the way in which Philips exports all around the world from its Glemsford plant,” he said. “Strong trade links with the EU is not the detriment of non-EU trade.

“On the contrary, this underlines that so much of our non-EU exports come from international firms based in the UK because of our strong ties with the single market and, if a firm like Philips Avent leaves, that undermines all our trade, not just that with Europe.”

Mr Cartlidge added: “This is not a game. It is not enough to say that Brexit will be ‘alright on the night’ and we just need to get on with it.

“We need to get behind the Prime Minister in seeking a deal that delivers the decision to leave the EU, but without sacrificing our economy in the process.

“In particular, we need to maintain frictionless trade and strong ties with the EU market. That means any deal will be a compromise and we all need to recognise the reality of that.”

Philips Avent has confirmed it will keep stakeholders updated on the situation and Mr Mesher will attend the next meeting of the South Suffolk Taskforce, chaired by Mr Cartlidge, in Sudbury next month.

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