Since the date was set for the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, lots of local residents have been asking my views.
I have no political axe to grind on this subject. Here I outline some of my thoughts on this subject based on my experience and information that I have gleaned along the way.
I believe that this is the biggest decision that we as a nation will make in our lifetime. The outcome of the EU referendum will determine the future of Britain and the lives of British people for generations to come. I have been clear from the outset that I very strongly believe that staying in Europe is the right thing to do for Britain, for Lancashire and most definitely for Burnley and Padiham. I will campaign for us to stay in Europe because I am proud to be British and I want to give our country and our children the best possible future. I want to see a strong Britain in a strong Europe.
As we move to make this important decision we should have at the forefront of our minds the fact that the two world wars in living memory, both started in Europe. I have talked to local people who served in the armed forces in these conflicts and I personally have family members who lost their lives in wars fought over land and trade disputes in Europe. I would say that anyone who has visited the battlefields of Europe, and seen the graves of those who died in the First and Second World Wars knows that we must never return to a time where we are at war with our neighbors. We still have our rows with our European neighbors but now we sort our differences around a table using diplomacy not bombs and tanks. The EU has helped keep the peace in Europe for decades and at a time when there is so much instability around the world I’ll be voting ‘yes’ first and foremost because I want to be part of a group of nations committed to peace, security and democracy.
The EU is made up of The European Parliament and The European Council both of which are democratically elected. The most undemocratic body affecting our lives is the British House of Lords
Our membership of the EU helps to protect us from terrorists and the perpetrators of organized crime. These people have no respect for national borders and we best protect ourselves when we work together pooling intelligence to avert terrorist attacks and foil criminals. The European Arrest Warrant means that criminals apprehended in Europe can be returned to Britain in a matter of days. It used to take months and sometimes years for criminals to be brought to justice.
Our membership of the EU also brings us economic security. Those who want us to leave Europe always exaggerate the costs of our membership. As member of parliament and as the former leader of Burnley Council I know the facts and they are : we pay in £7.6 billion a year to the EU (This is less than half a percent of our national spending and less than Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark or Finland.) We get benefits and investment totalling over £62 billion. We get far more out than we put in. Projects in Burnley and Padiham receive over £5 million each year. Much of the building and improvement work that is going on around town, is as a result of European funding. One really important fact to note is that funding from the EU to Britain is shared out equally, with each region getting a fair share. In contrast money from the British Government favours the southern regions. Add to this the fact that over 7 thousands jobs in our town are dependent upon trade with Europe this really is beneficial for Burnley and Padiham. . At the moment 58% of all our trade deals are done with Europe and we have easy access to a market of 500 million people. On the wider issue of trade : As a nation of less than seventy million we cannot hope to compete with the likes of China or India both of whom have populations of a billion. We could not hope to negotiate such favourable trade deals on our own. The EU is an important spring board to the rest of the world. Our local companies have access to a market of $24 trillion and recent EU deals with Canada, Japan and the U.S. Could see this rise to$48 trillion. We cannot afford to walk away from this.
If Britain votes to come out of the EU we would have to try negotiate some kind of trade deal. The EU would not make this easy. It took two years for Iceland to negotiate a trade deal when they exited. Such deals involve the payment of tariffs and all are conditional upon allowing the free movement of people across Europe. The tariffs would mean us paying more for goods inour shops and in case anyone is wondering: leaving Europe would not affect levels of immigration one iota. The other side of this is that we should remember that over 2 million people live and work in Europe and many of our young people choose to study there.
It is important to remember that it was Britain’s EU membership not the British Government that gave British workers’ rights to minimum paid leave, rights for agency workers, paid maternity and paternity leave, equal pay, anti-discrimination laws and protection for the workforce when companies change ownership. These are all at risk if we leave because I have to say that the Conservatives don’t have a good track record when it comes to workers’ rights.
The 28 nations of the EU share many of the same challenges whether it be: tackling terrorism, coping with the pressures of an aging population or facing up to climate change. It is much easier and makes a lot of sense to deal with these together.
Being in Europe gives Britain a more influential voice. We are the natural respected link between Brussels and Washington. Our voice counts at international conferences and summits. It wouldn't be so if we stood alone. I am not trying to say the EU is perfect but it is a powerful alliance that brings many benefits for us here in Burnley and Padiham. If we were outside the EU we would still be affected by its actions but we would be powerless to change anything. It is definitely not in our interests to be bystanders.
In conclusion, I genuinely want what is best for Britain. I want to see Britain leading in a strong Europe tackling inequalities, ending tax evasion, standing up for workers and families, rising to the ever increasing number of global challenges of modern life, sharing responsibilities, working together for prosperity for all. We should stay in Europe not just because it is economically advantageous, though it is, but because we are a confident, an outward looking internationalist country. It is the right thing to do because we all have a moral duty to pass on a better world to our children. Britain is better in Europe and the world is better for it.