BIRMINGHAM, England -- The wrong Brexit deal could cost tens of thousands of jobs, Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth, warned. He said he had no idea whether the company's U.K. plants would be able to operate after Britain leaves the European Union next year.
Speth said that the automaker would not be able to build cars if customs checks meant that the motorway to and from the southern English port of Dover, which is used to transport components, becomes a "car park" due to snarl-ups.
Speth made the warning on Tuesday at a conference in Birmingham, central England, speaking shortly before Prime Minister Theresa May, who is battling to have her so-called Chequers Brexit plan accepted by many in her Conservative Party as well as the EU ahead of Britain's departure from the bloc on March 29.
"A thousand [jobs were] lost as a result of diesel policy and those numbers will be counted in the tens of thousands if we do not get the right Brexit deal," Speth said, referring to lay offs made earlier this year at the firm.
"Currently I do not even know if any of our manufacturing facilities in the UK will be able to function on the 30th," he said.
Britain's car industry, which employs more than 850,000 people, is overwhelmingly foreign-owned and dependent on supply and distribution chains which spread around the world, but especially the EU, its largest export market.
Speth said unfettered access to the single market for Jaguar Land Rover, which built nearly a third of Britain's 1.67 million cars last year, was "as important a part to our business as wheels are to our cars."
"Any friction at our borders puts our production in jeopardy - at a cost of 60 million pounds a day," he said.
JLR has four plants in the U.K. that produce 3,000 cars a day, use 25 million components and are dependent on a "just in time" schedule.
Speth also said long-standing issues around low productivity in Britain could be compounded by a Brexit agreement which made the country less competitive. "It is thousands of pounds cheaper to produce vehicles for instance in eastern Europe than in Solihull and what decisions will I be forced to make if Brexit means not merely that costs go up but that we cannot physically build cars on time and on budget in the UK?" he said.
JLR is due to open a new plant in Slovakia later this year.
Speth warned that decisions were being taken by companies now that won’t be reversed -- whatever the final Brexit outcome.
London and Brussels say they want to get a divorce deal at the Oct. 18 EU Council meeting or at the latest by the end of the year.
Under May’s Chequers plan, Britain will seek a free trade area for goods with the EU, largely by accepting a “common rulebook” for goods and British participation in EU agencies that provide authorizations for goods. But that plan has angered hardline Brexiteers in her party.
Asked about Speth's comments, May's spokesman said her plans include specific proposals to protect jobs in industries using "just-in-time" supply chains.
Bloomberg contributed to this report