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As Brexit Drags On, Airbus Workers In North Wales Worry About Jobs


British Prime Minister Theresa May gathers her squabbling Cabinet on a retreat this week. They have a simple agenda. All they have to do is agree how to leave the European Union, which has not been easy. Two years ago, the U.K. voted in favor of Brexit, amid promises that Britain held all the cards and could gain all it wanted in easy new trade arrangements with the EU. It's still not clear what those arrangements are going to be, and manufacturers are warning they might have to relocate from Britain. Alice Fordham reports from North Wales.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: A sprawling factory where 6,000 workers assemble airplane wings completely dominates the little town of Broughton.


FORDHAM: Planes buzz up from an airstrip next to the site run by aerospace company Airbus. The company's soccer team has its own field. And there are cartoons of planes spray painted into the street art here.

IAN LUCAS: So it's part of the business that the wings are made in the U.K. The body is made in Germany. And assembly takes place in France.

FORDHAM: This is local Member of Parliament Ian Lucas. He explains that, while Britain is in the EU, Airbus can transport those wings into Europe without bureaucratic delays or tariffs. After Britain leaves, Airbus doesn't know what's going to happen.

LUCAS: That frustration was that, despite pressing on this for the two years since the referendum results, they feel that very little progress has been made and that there is very little clarity about what the rules are going to be from next March when Britain leaves the EU.

FORDHAM: Airbus is one of a slew of major companies to warn that it's making contingency plans to move out of the country if there's no deal. Manufacturing accounts for hundreds of thousands of British jobs, and the Airbus factory workers are nervous. Here's Darren Reynolds, the union rep.

DARREN REYNOLDS: Unfortunately, there's many questions that aren't answered. And until we get those answers, you know, there's going to be uncertainty within the company.

FORDHAM: As we sit in a cafe near the factory, Reynolds tells me workers here hold their government responsible.

REYNOLDS: Our message to the government really is quite simple really. It's to get off the pot and tell the big international and European companies how they're expected to trade post-Brexit.

FORDHAM: This area actually voted to leave the EU. Many were worried about European migrants taking their jobs, Reynolds says. But now they might not be so sure about their decision.

REYNOLDS: I think obviously after the Brexit, and they've spent two years talking about it - negotiating something we don't actually know what it's going to be - I actually believe some of the people who voted out now would definitely change their mind.

FORDHAM: Some people in government are taking the concerns of Airbus and its workers seriously. The minister in charge of business, Greg Clark, acknowledged that in Parliament.


GREG CLARK: Mr. Speaker, any company and any industry that supports the livelihoods of so many working people in this country is entitled to be listened to with respect.


FORDHAM: But not all ministers seem to share this view. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson reportedly used a four-letter word lately to refer to the business community. Member of Parliament Mark Tami took note of these mixed signals.


MARK TAMI: Are these comments indicative of the chaos in our government over Brexit and their approach to anyone who dares to raise genuine concern?


FORDHAM: The Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to summon her unruly cabinet for a retreat this week to thrash out what the U.K. is actually going to ask for. And after that, she just has to sell it to the Europeans. For NPR News, I'm Alice Fordham in Broughton, North Wales.

(SOUNDBITE OF SABZI'S "AMONG TREES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.

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