Business secretary Greg Clark rushed to Paris last night in a desperate bid to save 3,500 British jobs threatened by a proposed takeover of Vauxhall.
The French car giant that owns Peugeot and Citroen is in talks to buy Vauxhall – taking control of its two factories in Bedfordshire and Cheshire.
But it is feared the move will result in thousands of job losses and even the closure of the Vauxhall plants at Ellesmere Port – which is known as the ‘Home of the Astra’ – and Luton.
The row over the future of Vauxhall comes just weeks after Theresa May launched her industrial strategy for post-Brexit Britain.
Ministers are under pressure to protect British companies vulnerable to overseas predators amid warnings that a string of high profile foreign takeovers have resulted in the loss of jobs, expertise and ideas.
It is feared the move will result in thousands of job losses and even the closure of the Vauxhall plants at Ellesmere Port (pictured) – which is known as the ‘Home of the Astra’ – and Luton
Mr Clark travelled to Paris by Eurostar last night for crisis talks with bosses at Peugeot and Citroen owner PSA Group.
The business secretary will also meet French industry minister Christophe Sirugue in an attempt to safeguard British jobs.
The proposed deal would see PSA Group buy the European arm of American giant General Motors which includes Vauxhall in Britain and Opel on the Continent.
Vauxhall employs 1,830 staff at its factory in Ellesmere Port where it makes the Astra and a further 1,530 at the plant in Luton where it produces the Vivaro van.
Vauxhall has a total of 35,000 staff in the UK including 20,000 in its dealerships around the country and 7,000 in the supply chain as well as its factory workers.
It is feared that PSA Group would rather shut Vauxhall plants in Britain than Opel factories in Europe, including in Germany and France, given the French government owns a 14 per cent stake in the company.
But British union chiefs have demanded that the government offer PSA Group incentives to keep Ellesmere Port and Luton open – just as it did with Nissan to convince the Japanese car maker to increase its investment in Sunderland.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said the union is ‘not prepared to accept a single job loss’ in the UK as a result of the deal.
He described Vauxhall as ‘a jewel within the crown’ of GM’s European business.
‘I will be seeking reassurances on behalf of the 35,000 workers across the UK that rely on this company for a job,’ said Mr McCluskey.
‘We will not accept a single job loss from this process because these plants and their workforces are world-class and deserve a future.’
Mr Clark earlier held talks with GM president Dan Ammann.
He said he had been ‘reassured by GM’s intention to build on the success of these operations rather than rationalise them’ – even though GM is planning to sell the plants.
Germany has also expressed concerns at the proposed takeover amid concerns about what impact the tie-up would have on the 19,000 German jobs at Opel.
French giant PSA Group has a record of cost-cutting and closed its last British factory – the Peugeot plant in Ryton in Warwickshire – in 2007 with the loss of more than 2,000 jobs.
The cuts have continued in recent years and the company’s latest figures show it axed 15,559 jobs in its automotive division between 2013 and 2015.
GM has made major investments in its UK operations in recent years.
The American giant put £140million into Ellesmere Port in 2012 so the plant could produce the new Astra in a move that guaranteed 2,000 jobs.
Two years later it invested £185million in the Luton plant.
But the Vauxhall and Opel car businesses have failed to make a profit for GM since 1999 – and it is now planning to offload them.
Describing his meeting with GM yesterday as ‘constructive’, Mr Clark said: ‘I emphasised the importance and successful presence of Vauxhall in the UK and welcomed GM’s recognition of the excellent and committed workforce at Ellesmere Port, Luton and across the UK.’