Furious union leaders said they intend to take the fight on to save the Ryton plant for future generations.

R epresentatives from the Transport & General Workers Union and Amicus, said they walked out of a 20 minute meeting with Peugeot chief executive Jean-Martin Folz.

They had received backing from colleagues in French unions for a campaign to save the factory, despite its closure being an apparent done deal.

Des Quinn of the TGWU said job cuts on the same scale could never happen in France because of "stronger" employment laws.

He said: "We intend to take this fight not only to Peugeot, but to the centre of Government and force the Government to change employment legislation, to ensure that not only Ryton has a long term future, but the rest of manufacturing in the UK."

Roger Maddison of Amicus said Peugeot-Citroen's position was different from that of MG Rover and Jaguar because the French firm was making billions of euros "year in, year out".

The Peugeot 206 model, which is made at Ryton, had added to the profits and unions believed the plant was profitable.

"This is a case of corporate greed and a betrayal of the workforce. We believe our members will recognise that and will fight to do something about it.

"The people of Coventry and the UK will be outraged that workers are treated in that way and we intend to do something about it."

Mr Maddison said unions had been sceptical about the company's plans for Ryton for some time, especially after the firm turned down the Government's offer of £14.5 million in aid two years ago.

"We believe the decision was taken around that time and was kept from us. Yesterday's timing was hand-picked on the back of a public holiday and perhaps it would not make as much news."

Mr Quinn accused Peugeot-Citroen's chief executive Jean-Martin Folz of reneging on a commitment given a year ago to meet with unions before any decision was taken about the future of Ryton.

Messages of support had been sent from French unions, which were prepared to join the campaign to save Ryton, said Mr Quinn.

The campaign to keep the plant open did not have to involve immediate industrial action, said the union official.

Jim O'Boyle, T&G convenor at Ryton, said he had received an email from union officials in France yesterday morning.

Mr O'Boyle said: "This morning I emailed my colleague on the European Works Council. I've had a reply this morning, via email, from one of the trade unions there saying that they are disgusted with the decision that PSA has made.

"They are prepared to fall square behind whatever decision we take to try to get the company to reverse that decision.

"They are prepared to take action, what action that takes is a matter for them."

Asked if he had requested the support of French unions for a British strike, Mr O'Boyle would not be drawn.

He said: "I've not been specific because it's been reported here today that this is the start of a campaign to save people's jobs and livelihoods here."

Mr O'Boyle later said he had been in contact with the secretary of the European Works Council to organise a special meeting.