Ford will reassess UK operations if Britain leaves EU, report says



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LONDON (Reuters) -- Ford Motor Co., the top-selling automaker in the UK, has become the latest carmaker to say it would be forced to reconsider its UK operations if the country voted in favor of leaving the European Union.

Steve Odell, head of Ford's operations in Europe, said the carmaker would have to re-evaluate its operations if Britain pulled out of the 28-member trading bloc in a proposed referendum.

"Clearly we wouldn't be alone in doing that. Would it mean tariffs? Would it mean duties? We'd take a look at what it meant," Odell told the Daily Telegraph newspaper. "I would strongly advise against leaving the EU for business purposes, and for employment purposes in the UK," the paper's report said.

Ford's warning follows a similar message last year from Nissan, which also has substantial operations in the UK employing thousands of people.

Ford closed its British van factory in Southampton, southern England, in July and shuttered an associated stamping facility in Dagenham, east London, ending vehicle manufacturing in Britain.

But the firm still employs nearly 15,000 people in Britain, who mainly build and develop engines, and supports a further 100,000 jobs through its network of suppliers and dealers, the company said on its Web site.

Referendum on Europe

Prime Minister David Cameron promised voters he would renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership before holding an in-out referendum by 2017 if his ruling Conservatives were returned to power after elections due in May 2015.

The center-right party is trailing in the polls and faces a rising threat from the small UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants to leave the EU.

Odell said he strongly discouraged the UK from leaving the EU but accepted if the public were asked today, most would support an exit as there was such a strong focus on the red tape that came with EU membership rather than the benefits.

"If they voted today, the common vote -- unfortunately -- would be to leave Europe," said UK-born Odell.

Ford's comments come after UK car sales in 2013 recorded their best year since 2007, with registrations rising 11 percent on 2012 to 2.26 million vehicles, while sales in the rest of Europe have fallen in recent years.

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