The closure of the Appledore shipyard, scheduled for 15 March, is ‘a national tragedy that cruelly exposes the government’s threadbare shipbuilding strategy’, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Friday 1 March).

The closure, with the loss of about 200 jobs, brings to an end a 164-year-old history of shipbuilding at the north Devon yard.

The owners engineering giant Babcock International is proceeding with the closure, despite a strong campaign by Unite and the GMB union to save the shipyard.

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU) said: “Unfortunately, no realistic options were identified and we reluctantly accept that the process is now exhausted.

“We lay the blame for the closure at the door of the UK government and will continue to fight for a national shipbuilding strategy that works for the industry and shipbuilding communities across the UK.

“We recognise the efforts the company has made to keep members employed over the last year and accept that they must now commence individual consultation with Appledore employees over their options."

Unite regional officer Heathcliffe Pettifer said: “The big question is why the Tory government did not do more to keep the yard open. There is no proper defence procurement blueprint and, more generally, there is no UK manufacturing strategy.

“Government has been single minded in opening up the auxiliary ships that the Royal Navy, so desperately needs, to international competition.

“All of this culminated eventually in Babcock making the decision to close the Appledore facility that would have benefited from such work.

“Appledore’s closure is a national tragedy, ending a shipbuilding tradition in north Devon stretching back more than 160 years. It cruelly exposes the government’s threadbare shipbuilding strategy.

“Ministers could have done much more to secure future work for Appledore. Defence secretary Gavin Williamson wrung his hands in true Pontius Pilate fashion when he said last autumn it was a commercial decision for the company.

“At the moment, the future of the workers is fluid with some currently working at Devonport. We will continue to give them maximum support in the weeks and months ahead.

“But the closure is a bitter blow for these skilled workers and their families, and it will take a very long time for the Devon economy to come to terms to what has happened at Appledore.” 

The situation at Appledore came to a head after the loss of a contract to an Italian yard last year.

Heathcliffe Pettifer added: “Brexit uncertainty, undoubtedly, did play a part in creating this imbroglio. The Italian yard shipyard, Vittoria, which won the Maltese order, effectively sounding the death knell for Appledore, benefited from EU funding and Italian state aid.

“Clearly, the UK government does not fight for its own shipbuilding industry with the same vigour as European competitors.”

Last autumn, Unite said the government’s continual lack of commitment to building ships for the Royal Navy threatened ‘to shipwreck’ the future of Appledore and also the Harland & Wolff  yard in Belfast.

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065


  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.