Ford Warning Shows Britain Must Stay in EU, U.K. Lawmaker Says

Ford Motor Co.’s global use of its British manufacturing presence shows the importance of Britain staying in the European Union, a U.K. member of the European Parliament said.

Catherine Bearder, from the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in Britain’s coalition government, was responding to comments made by Jim Farley, Ford’s president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In a BBC Radio interview broadcast Tuesday, Farley said the U.K. needs to stay in the EU to keep its manufacturers at the forefront of global production. Asked what would happen if it left the 28-nation bloc, he said “we really hope that doesn’t happen.”

“Access to the EU single market is central to the success of U.K. manufacturing,” Bearder said by e-mail. “The U.K. must lead reform in Europe, not leave and throw the economic recovery away.”

Britain’s EU membership has become a central topic in the run-up to May’s knife-edge general election. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to negotiate better terms for Britain and put the results to voters in an in-or-out referendum by the end of 2017.

The Liberal Democrats, the most pro-EU of Britain’s main parties, say a referendum risks harming investment in the U.K. and a popular vote should only be held if the balance of power in the bloc is significantly altered.

Farley said one out of three engines that Ford produces globally are made in the U.K., where his company has about 14,000 workers. If Britain did pull out of the EU, it would “not necessarily” change its operations because Ford’s U.K. engineering team would remain important for the firm.

“We really believe that the U.K. being part of the EU is critical for business,” Farley said.