Minister ‘close to despair’ at BAe threat

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A MINISTER has revealed he feels “almost despair” at the threat to 900 jobs at BAe Systems in Brough and has vowed to work “flat out” to get more orders for the company’s Hawk plane.

Defence Minister Gerald Howarth said more foreign buyers were now demanding planes manufactured in their own country, as a senior BAe official admitted that even if the company wins an American order for 350 Hawks they will have to be “seen as a US product” and largely manufactured in the United States.

Mr Howarth was speaking at a fringe event at the Tory conference in which Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis warned Britain’s industrial base is at risk as defence projects are increasingly carried out overseas.

“I feel David’s sense of almost despair,” said Mr Howarth. “I quite understand how you feel and the workforce have been coming to see me in the House of Commons for the last 12 years.

“In the British defence industry we have a world beater...And what I’ll try to do is work flat out to try to get export orders for the Hawk but the truth is there’s been a fundamental shift in the way in which this international trade is carried out. The customer now is...looking for production in his own country.”

Suggesting Iraq could be one possible market, he said: “We liberated the Iraqis from a tyrant, we liberated Libya from a tyrant, frankly I want to see the UK business benefit from the liberation we’ve give to their people.”

An online petition calling for the Government to support the defence industry in areas where BAe jobs are under threat has attracted more than 600 signatures.