THE boss at Hitachi - one of the region’s fastest-growing employers - has warned Brexit could force a rethink of the company’s UK investment plans.

Hundreds of North-East jobs depends upon the Japanese multinational which will soon employ more than 700 people at its Newton Aycliffe manufacturing site, making new trains for the East Coast, Great Western and Scotrail lines.

The firm's global rail business is based in London, and it hopes to grow its presence in the North-East as it continues to win train-building orders.

The warning about the impact of a vote to leave the EU on June 23 from Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of the Japanese multinational, follows similar comments from Nissan – the largest private employer in the North-East - which said Brexit could lead to the car manufacturer scaling back its UK investment.

Mr Nakanishi said: “I would like to explain how Brexit would affect us at Hitachi, and why we think it’s important for Britain to remain in Europe.

Hitachi is a global company based in Japan, and a serious long-term investor in the UK.

“We have invested over a billion pounds creating new jobs in the UK’s rail and energy sectors.

“Our projects include a rail manufacturing plant in the North East of England and planning to build new nuclear power plants on Anglesey, fully supporting the aims of reviving manufacturing, energy security and spreading employment around the UK.

“Together Japanese investors provide 140,000 direct jobs in the UK, and many more in the supply chain.

“A recent survey of these companies showed 95 per cent of respondents thought Brexit would be negative for their businesses and for UK jobs; and none wanted to see the UK leave the EU.

“For most global companies like Hitachi, the critical benefit of investing in the UK is that it is the best base for accessing the whole European market of 500m people.

“There are other reasons like the size of the UK market, availability of local and international talent and the support of our local communities – which is why we take a positive view of the UK inside Europe.

“Therefore we have our regional headquarters here and moved our global rail headquarters to London.

“But take away the UK’s membership of the EU, and the future investment case looks very different.

“In the 80s Nissan and Toyota came to the UK on the basis that if they produced here and employed a British workforce they would be treated as European companies.

“This was only possible because Britain was inside the EU; and so the UK car industry was revived and became an exporter again.

“From Japan, this incredible success story looks like a huge gain from the UK’s membership of the EU.

“We worry because those advocating Brexit have no answer to how the UK could negotiate cost-free access to this huge market from a position outside it.

“It would take a long time and result in uncertain market conditions; during this renegotiation period, investors would probably be waiting to see the outcomes, hold back on investment, and jobs would be lost.

“This is the cold economic reality of Brexit.”

Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, who played a pivotal role in Hitachi choosing to build its £82m plant at Aycliffe, said: “The words of the Hitachi chairman, Mr Nakanishi, should come as a warning to those promoting the Leave campaign. Hitachi has made the biggest private sector investment in the North East since Nissan. The train building factory is in my constituency because of the brilliant local workforce and because the UK is the gateway to Europe. It would be a tragedy if the UK votes to leave the EU and put all the investment at risk.

“The leave campaigners are not acting in the best interest of the North-East economy. What they are promoting is economic madness. I, and others, worked long and hard to ensure Hitachi came to the North-East. I want to see the company stay for the long-term and expand creating more jobs, skills and prosperity. That can only happen if we remain part of the EU.”