BAE’s stance shows it is wrong to quit Portsmouth

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When BAE Systems announced in November that it was intending to end shipbuilding in Portsmouth and move it to the Clyde, there were several good reasons to oppose this move.

Locally, there was the fact that it ended a tradition of hundreds of years of skilled work, and the fear of the effect that the closure would have on the city and beyond.

But nationally and internationally, many concerns were raised about transferring the bulk of our shipbuilding expertise to an area which, in only a few months’ time, could become a foreign country.

The security implications for our navy are obvious in the event of a ‘yes’ vote in the Scottish independence vote, but this was an issue that BAE never engaged with, preferring to hide behind the vague and nebulous explanation of ‘business reasons’.

There are some who still suspect that a political game was played around the closure. The thought was that the Portsmouth yard was sacrificed as a sop to keep the Scottish yards open – and therefore keep the Scots happy with the UK government, and more likely to vote ‘no’ and stay in the UK.

But whatever the discussions that may or may not have gone at whatever level, to hear that BAE has warned of the risks of Scotland leaving the UK is, in the context, breathtaking.

We cannot but feel that given the hammer blow to our city, for BAE to start entering the political realm and try to dictate what would be best for its business is astonishingly arrogant.

The statement reveals again how inexplicable it is – if indeed it was without political pressure – that BAE decided to move north, if it was just for ‘business reasons’.

It could have weathered another year here and made a sound decision based on the referendum, and rather than jump early and then hope for the best, BAE could have plotted a sounder course for the future.

Instead we have uncertainty – in the event of a ‘yes’ vote will BAE try to return? – and it is unedifying that the company is, despite its protestations, trying to influence a democratic referendum to ensure its own ‘certainty and stability’.