The opening of a new battery plant which will create more than 120 jobs has been hailed by business secretary Kemi Badenoch as a benefit of Brexit.

The Australian iron ore giant Fortescue revealed today it was opening a new battery plant in Banbury which will deliver highly skilled jobs once open in 2024.

This expected boost to the UK’s electric vehicle supply chain comes after Fortescue announced earlier this year it was also opening a new plant in Kidlington, which is set to create up to 300 new jobs.

READ MORE: Girl on electric scooter has near-miss with a car

Oxford Mail: Founder of Fortescue Andrew Forrest and business secretary Kemi BadenochFounder of Fortescue Andrew Forrest and business secretary Kemi Badenoch (Image: Ed Halford)

The Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement, which was signed in December 2021, has been unpopular with the farming community in Oxfordshire but Ms Badenoch dismissed criticisms of the deal and labelled this lastest investment as “absolutely a benefit of Brexit”.

She said: “The free trade agreement is allowing us to explore opportunities which we could not do when inside the EU.”

Ms Badenoch also rejected the suggestion the deal had negatively impacted the agricultural sector and pointed to gains in other sectors.

Oxford Mail: Batteries made at Fortescue's plants are used to power cars like thisBatteries made at Fortescue's plants are used to power cars like this (Image: Ed Halford)

She said: “I think it is a shame there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the agricultural side of the free trade agreement.

“It has mostly been about importing beef from Australia, but we are a net importer of beef, so this is not a problem.”

Oxford Mail: Fortescue is an Australian mining companyFortescue is an Australian mining company (Image: Ed Halford)

Ms Badenoch said criticisms of the deal was the consequence of “mischief” being stirred up in "some quarters" and she said the UK needed to look to the sectors where it had a specialist advantage.

She said: “I didn’t negotiate this deal, but it is good.

“We need to be looking at where we specialise and have a comparative advantage.

“It is exactly places like here doing the advanced manufacturing which allow us to export more and reduce tariffs on components.”

Oxford Mail: Kemi Badenoch was given a tour of the site by Andrew ForrestKemi Badenoch was given a tour of the site by Andrew Forrest (Image: Ed Halford)

She called on businesses in Oxfordshire to do more to reap the benefits of this deal in the same way Fortescue had done.

She said: “I’m really excited about the free trade agreement.

“The agreement is there like a motorway, but we need the cars to get on that motorway.”

The trade agreement eliminates tariffs on more than 99 per cent of Australian goods exports to the UK.

Oxford Mail: Kemi Badenoch and Andrew Forrest meet each other at the start of the tour.Kemi Badenoch and Andrew Forrest meet each other at the start of the tour. (Image: Ed Halford)

The focus of work at the new Banbury site will be creating a wide range of zero emission products for the off road sector, including trucks and trains.

Ms Badenoch met with Fortescue’s founder and Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest.

Mr Forrest said the Banbury plant intended to “attract the best talent from around the world” and he revealed it would not be long before a thousand new jobs would be created by the company’s expansion in the UK.

He said: “If we are looking at the overall employment of British youth, some want to start on a farm while others don’t.

“This is right in their back yard and is the best in the world for them to join.”

Mr Forrest said demand for electricity and “zero harm products” was going through the roof and said it was necessary to create more manufacturing centres if the planet was going to be saved.

He said: “We need these centres in places where we are most welcome and we are feeling a warm welcome here in Britain.”

Ms Badenoch said she was reassured apprenticeships will be available for young people locally and chief operating officer at WAE Technologies Sam Coughlin promised the company would continue to work with schools.

He said: “We have moved north of Oxford and south of Birmingham to capture that triangle as it is a great area to recruit from.

“Every year we are growing by 10 per cent with the graduate scheme.”

Mr Forrest purchased WAE last year and it was the technical offshoot of Formula 1 team Williams.

The factory will focus primarily on the manufacturing of heavy industry and zero emission powertrain systems.

The first prototype build is targeted for July or August 2023, with the first mining haul truck module due for completion in August 2023.

A hiring campaign has started and interested applicants have been advised to apply via Fortescue’s website.