A claim that a lack of M4 improvements influenced a decision by Ineos to suspend plans to move jobs to Wales has been dismissed as “nonsense”.
The firm said on Tuesday plans to build a new 4×4 vehicle plant in Bridgend had been put on hold.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said Welsh ministers “inability” to upgrade the road “influenced the Ineos decision”.
But Welsh Government Economy Secretary Ken Skates said the suggestion was “nothing more than nonsense on stilts”.
The Welsh Government announced it would not be building the new £1.6bn 14-mile motorway in June 2019, due to cost and environmental concerns, three months before Ineos revealed its Bridgend production plans.
A commission was established to look at alternative solutions to the problem of congestion on the M4 in Newport.
The plant would have been built next to the current Ford engine plant at Bridgend, which is to shut this autumn with the loss of 1,700 jobs.
The new factory was expected to create about 200 jobs initially to make the new all-terrain Grenadier vehicle with hopes it could employ up to 500 people in the longer-term.
The decision by Ineos to suspend its plans followed talks with Mercedes-Benz over the acquiring of their Hambach site in Moselle, France, Ineos has said.
Mr Hart said in the Commons that this “of course is a Welsh Government deal” and that an “unwillingness” and “inability” to make improvements to the M4 relief road had “influenced the Ineos decision”.
Responding later, in the Senedd, Mr Skates said: “Any suggestion that the M4 decision influenced Ineos is nothing more than nonsense on stilts.
“The fact of the matters is that the M4 decision was made in the summer of 2019 and the Ineos deal was secured in the autumn of 2019.
“In four years of negotiations with the company, not on one occasion was the M4 raised.”
During Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson repeated his previous suggestion that the UK government would “unblock the Brynglas Tunnels”, often blamed for motorway congestion around Newport, with a “proper M4 bypass”.
Mr Johnson said his government would “do the things the Welsh Government has failed to do”.
Road building in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Government in Cardiff.
Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts said “the prime minister showed his complete ignorance of how devolution works and for the environment too for that matter”.
Firm ‘made a case for Brexit’
During questions on Ineos in the Welsh Parliament, former first minister and Bridgend Senedd member Carwyn Jones said the firm had “made a case for Brexit” and therefore had “an extra responsibility to invest in the UK and not invest in the [European] single market purely because it may be more convenient”.
Ken Skates said he agreed “entirely”, describing the firm’s decision to put its Bridgend plans on ice as “somewhat perplexing”.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that Brexit is doing immense damage to the automotive industry in the economy in general,” he said.
Conservative Senedd member Andrew RT Davies, a leading figure in the Brexit campaign in Wales, said he was disappointed that Mr Skates was “trying to blame Brexit for the situation that we find ourselves in”.
“Your negative tone today will do nothing to re-open negotiations with that company,” he said.
‘Never give up’
Earlier, during First Minister’s Questions, Mark Drakeford told the Senedd: “Anything we can still do to persuade them of the merits of coming to Bridgend and the outstanding workforce that is available to them there, we will.”
Welsh ministers would “never give up on making that case, up until the point where that company makes a final determination”, he stressed.