Hitachi, the Japanese technology group, has warned the UK against leaving the European Union, saying the future of its large-scale investments in the country’s nuclear and transport sectors would be thrown into doubt.
The comments by Hiroaki Nakanishi, Hitachi’s president, highlight widespread anxiety among Japanese businesses about the UK’s debate on the future of the country’s membership of the EU.
Mr Nakanishi told UK journalists in Tokyo that he had met David Cameron, the prime minister, in May and “strongly requested” that the UK should remain a member of the bloc.
Hitachi is one of the largest overseas investors in the UK and as recently as a year ago pledged a “100-year commitment” to the country after unveiling a £700m deal to build nuclear plants – a decision that removed much of the uncertainty that had threatened Britain’s nuclear revival.
Similar warnings about the cost of UK exiting the EU have been issued by other Japanese investors, such as Nissan, the car manufacturer, whose Sunderland plant produces more than 500,000 cars a year. In July, the Japanese government warned that investment by the country’s businesses in the UK was dependent on its place in the EU and that it expected Britain to maintain a “strong voice” in Europe.
As well as its nuclear energy interests, Hitachi is replacing trains on the Great Western main line and East Coast main line. Mr Nakanishi said London had urged Hitachi to set up a supply chain to supply continental Europe’s train systems.
The UK offered a better business environment than other European countries such as Germany, he said. But, when asked what the impact of a UK exit from the EU would be on Hitachi’s investments, Mr Nakanishi replied: “I do not expect such a case but I would have to reconsider how to manage our railway business.” The same would apply to its nuclear interests, he added.
Japanese companies fear that if the UK was not part of the EU, their operations in the country would face barriers to trading with the rest of the Europe and have to cope with different standards across the continent.