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In Closing U.K. Plant, Honda Is the Latest Automaker to Bail on Britain Amid Brexit

Japanese carmaker Honda will shut its only plant in the U.K. at the end of the current production cycle in 2021. The closure of the plant, located in Swindon in the southwest of England, comes amid growing uncertainty about Brexit.

Honda confirmed the planned closure on Tuesday. Its senior vice president for Europe Ian Howells told BBC Radio, “This is not a Brexit-related issue for us. This decision has been made on the basis of… global changes…we were very clear on our Brexit position, we’ve always seen those as something we will get through.”

Yet the move comes 38 days before the U.K. is slated to leave the European Union on March 29. Despite much back-and-forth among lawmakers, the U.K. currently has no detailed plan on how that will happen.

Nevertheless, Swindon members of parliament Justin Tomlinson and Robert Buckland, both of the pro-Brexit Conservative Party, said Monday that after speaking to Honda officials they’d learned that the “decision has been made because of global trends and is not related to Brexit.”

British union representatives did not accept that explanation. “The car industry in the U.K. over the last two decades has been the jewel in the crown for the manufacturing sector—and now it has been brought low by the chaotic Brexit uncertainty,” Des Quinn, national automotive officer at the trade union Unite told Reuters.

The Swindon plant produces more than 10% of all the cars made in Britain, and currently employs some 3,500 workers. “This is a devastating decision for Swindon and the U.K.,” U.K. Business Secretary Greg Clark told Reuters.

Honda’s decision also comes against the backdrop of a new EU-Japan trade deal, which entered into force this month. The deal means manufacturers in Japan, including Honda, will face lower barriers to entry into the EU market and vice versa. British trade talks with Japan stalled this week after British negotiators overplayed their hand in pushing for a quick deal.

The Brexit stalemate has sent shockwaves through the U.K. auto industry of late. Earlier this month, Nissan canceled plans in to produce its X-Trail in the U.K., citing Brexit uncertainty. BMW and other carmakers have scheduled routine maintenance pauses in production to coincide with the first days after Brexit takes place, to minimize supply chain disruptions.

This story has been updated to include comment from Honda senior vice president for Europe Ian Howells.