LONDON May 15 Britain has declined to release
details of talks held last year with luxury carmaker Bentley
Motors about a new investment decision ahead of Brexit, telling
Reuters any disclosure could harm its ability to get a good deal
with the European Union.
The Volkswagen-owned firm, which built over
11,000 luxury vehicles at its central English plant last year,
is due to make a decision connected to the production of future
models at the start of 2018.
In December a meeting was held between the firm and junior
Brexit minister David Jones, according to a log posted on the
government's website, but in response to a freedom of
information request from Reuters the department said it was not
in the public interest to release any of the correspondence.
"Part of the negotiation and exit process requires the UK to
be able to effectively pursue and protect our interests abroad.
Prematurely publicising information will prejudice our ability
to successfully conduct that business," it said.
The Department for Exiting the European Union said that
releasing any commercially sensitive information could make
firms reluctant to speak to government in future.
"The potential lack of this key exchange of ideas, or the
release of the information, may in turn weaken the government’s
position in these negotiations and make it harder for the UK to
secure the best possible deal with the EU."
Bentley declined to comment on Monday. Reuters intends to
seek a review of the government's decision.
Britain's largely foreign-owned car industry is worried
Brexit could add tariffs to imports and exports, make it harder
to move staff between sites and lead to border checks on the
movement of components which would slow down production, risking
the viability of their plants.
In March, Bentley's chief executive Wolfgang Duerheimer told
Reuters he would be seeking guarantees from the government in
the months ahead.
"You can get commitments and I count on commitments also
from the UK government and, as I understood, they already gave
commitments to other brands at certain times so when we come
closer, we will see what we have in our hands," he said.
A Brexit deal with Japanese carmaker Nissan met
with some political concern last year after the firm said it
would build two new models at its English plant following a call
for compensation in the event of tariffs.
An industry source said that the decision was secured with a
government promise of extra support to counter any
Brexit-induced loss of competitiveness.
Business minister Greg Clark declined to publish a copy of a
letter sent to the carmaker, telling lawmakers in December they
would only release it once commercial confidentialities no
Clark's department took over four months to respond to a
freedom of information request made by Reuters requesting
correspondence between Nissan and the government. The standard
response period is up to 20 working days.
However, it did eventually provide a number of partially
redacted emails and letters including one document showing the
firm discussed with Clark how to boost the uptake of electric
cars. Several government initiatives have since been announced.
Last week Britain's biggest vehicle engine maker Ford,
which runs two plants, said that a transitional deal with the
European Union was crucial to determining its future in Britain,
and suggested it would also be asking for government help.
"We are spending a lot of time thinking and talking about
how we need to change our operations and what support we need
from the government and other entities, not only in the UK, to
make sure (trade) friction doesn't get created," Ford of
Europe's chief executive Jim Farley said.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)