To leave or not to leave – that is the question

The European Union flag and national flags in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The European Union flag and national flags in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
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Have your say

With less than a week to go until one of the most important votes in living memory, here are the views of five north Northumberland politicians on whether we should remain in or leave the EU.

It essentially acts as the latest set of responses in our new series as we give our readers the chance to ask politicians of all stripes from the area for their views on the issues hitting the headlines.

Following a suggestion from a reader, we plan to run a regular feature in which we put your questions to politicians in the Berwick constituency.

The aim is that readers can ask a question or raise an issue that has been in the news, but get answers from local representatives about how it affects north Northumberland. Hopefully, it can provide a local view rather than just a national overview of policies, issues or talking points that are in the public eye.

If you would like to submit a question for the politicians, contact Ben O’Connell on 01665 602234 or the email address above.

While we did give the politicians a chance to write a final, general thought on the EU, in the spirit of the series, we also asked them to consider the following question from a reader in Berwick: Do you think that our natural environment and animal welfare would be protected better if we remain within the EU or if we leave?

Nigel Coghill-Marshall, Ukip

Next week we decide our future: as the Clash (almost) said, ‘should we stay or should we go?’ For all the bluster on trade and immigration, little attention has been paid to the nub of the matter. Do we remain a self-governing independent nation or become subsumed into a federal Europe?

It was Jean Monnet, so called ‘Father of the Common Market’ who said: “Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their peoples understanding what is happening.” Successive treaties have moved us closer to that goal. Remember too, that the Treaty of Lisbon began life as a proposed European Constitution.

Power resides with an elitist oligarchy of unelected commissioners who cannot be removed from office by electors. Unlike MPs sitting at Westminster, MEPs cannot propose legislation, only commissioners can do that. Plans for a European Public Prosecutor have re-surfaced; meaning the eventual adoption of a common criminal code. So goodbye to the presumption of innocence and habeas corpus.

Last year’s Five Presidents Report demanded further integration across many fronts, including harmonisation of property rights. This document will form the basis for the negotiations on the next treaty, pencilled in for 2019. In farming, British lamb sales to France amount to £170million annually. Imports of wine from France are £650million. Beef to Spain £40million; fruit from Spain, £500million. Who has more to fear from tariffs?

Staffing levels in the NHS won’t collapse if we leave. Most overseas nurses come from the Phillipines and doctors from India.

Trade figures are distorted by the ‘Rotterdam effect’. Exports to the rest of the world routed through Rotterdam count as trade with Europe. Control of environmental and animal welfare matters will be decided free from European political imperatives. For example, pesticide regulation will be based on risk not hazard. Nato and involvement with the ‘Five Eyes’ provides our security, not the nascent European army being pursued by France and Germany. The EU increasingly expects to develop common foreign policies.

Leaving will not isolate us. We will be able to decide when and on what to co-operate. We’ll negotiate our own deal with the EU. Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty demands that this will happen. We’ll trade with the world unencumbered by an increasingly protectionist EU.

Don’t be afraid to vote to leave. Take back control of our own future. A vote to remain is a vote to nurture our own nemesis.

Scott Dickinson, Labour

Our membership of the EU has some very definite and visible impacts especially in a largely rural area like Northumberland. Our farmers work closely with the EU to ensure environmental sustainability of crops and lands and this is enshrined in the Common Agricultural Policy. The EU works with national governments to monitor and grade our water quality and this is evident in our beaches through Blue Flag awards which act as a ‘quality mark’ for our communities. But it’s not just beaches and countryside, it’s also our rivers, woodlands, birds and other wildlife.

Our membership of the EU has been influential in substantial decline in air and water pollution, it’s helped us reduce carbon emissions and it’s helped promote the growth of renewable energies. It’s helped protect wildlife and wild places specifically through the Birds and Habitats Directive.

Our membership is attributable to transforming waste management and the EU has been proactive in the banning of many toxic substances through a scientific-based licensing system.

This all sounds very technical and bureaucratic, because it is. But this is bureaucracy for a purpose and the challenges for our environment and our wildlife don’t just stop at the White Cliffs of Dover. They exist beyond our borders and working together across the vast continent of Europe is the most effective way of tackling those challenges.

If you’re serious about tackling big issues like climate change then you have to work together with other countries and this is embedded in the EU. A vote to leave in the referendum would mean years of untangling the complex relationships which have grown during our membership and it may mean that our advances in protecting and nurturing our natural environments especially here in Northumberland, would be put at risk.

A vote to leave the EU is like a leap in the dark. Why take the risk?

Julie Pörksen, Liberal Democrats

Opportunities for us in Britain are expanded by being members of the EU. As individuals we have the opportunity to travel, study, work, and retire in any EU country. Businesses have the opportunity to export and import without tariffs or other barriers across the EU. Our prosperity and jobs, right here in the North East, very much depend on our EU exports. Employers, from business, to universities to our public services, have greater opportunities to find the human resources they need – the provision of our local NHS services depends on this. The EU is more than a market opportunity, in so many ways.

Far too many people died in wars in Europe in the last century and we should never become complacent about the value of peace and freedom. We should be proud that Britain, as part of the EU, played a role in helping the Eastern Bloc escape from the stranglehold of communism.

Creativity and innovation in our universities (businesses too) stems not from sitting alone thinking, but from sharing ideas and stimulating minds through different experiences. Within the EU, this sharing environment amongst students and researchers is what enables our universities to thrive and produce results. Rural areas in Britain have a relatively small voice compared to the cities. In Westminster, Ministers for agriculture struggle to be heard next to the big-spending ministries like education and health. Most of Europe is less urban than Britain and at a European level, the importance of rural areas to the economy and the environment, is understood. As a rural county, Northumberland relies on the support of the EU. By securing worker and consumer rights, the EU helps to counter the power of big business. And on animal welfare, Britain’s leading role is appreciated right across Europe.

Many of our common problems cannot be fixed by Britain alone as they cross-country borders. Cybercrime, big business tax evasion, climate change, pollution, habitat preservation – we can only find solutions to these issues by working together as a team. If we can’t even work with our neighbours, who can we work with?

The most important consideration for me is young people – their opportunities, their freedom, their prosperity. The vote on June 23 is a vote for the next generation and their future. They will definitely be better off in the EU.

Thomas Stewart, Green Party

This country (and Northumberland) faces huge challenges – a crisis in housing; a jobs crisis; an environmental crisis; a public health crisis; a crisis in the NHS, social care and all public services; a crisis of inequality.

None of these are caused by the EU, and none can be cured by leaving the EU – all are issues where national government has a duty to lead. The UK Government has failed to lead because the Conservative Party is ideologically driven to see inequality as good, the NHS as something to be sold, the natural environment as something to be strip-mined, animal welfare as something to be exploited, jobs as something in the City, and housing as something inherited from parents.

The UK contribution to the EU (which Mrs Trevelyan falsely portrays as £350m/week) in fact represents less than one per cent of total Government expenditure. Is this excessive? The annual rate of net migration to the UK means just one person added for every 200 existing UK citizens; certainly not ‘swamping’. How is our Government so incapable of coping?

Sovereignty has not been lost to the EU, but to global corporations – far less accountable and far less democratic.

The UK’s relationship with Europe, which has been an open wound within the Conservative Party for 30 years, is now the focus of an overt civil war for control of their party. The campaign to leave the EU is not a campaign for ordinary people (despite the claims of their millionaire leaders) nor for the environment, nor for sovereignty, and certainly not a campaign to save the NHS – instead it is little more than an attempted right-wing revolution.

Before being elected in 2010, David Cameron talked regularly of ‘Broken Britain’, but he has done nothing to mend the damage, nor to provide conditions where Britain can thrive. Since then, his colleagues have talked of little else except blaming ‘Europe’ and ‘migration’. This is a distracting sideshow: it is scapegoating, false and shameless.

The campaign to leave is driven by right-wing ideology and, if successful, would benefit only the elite. Together with global climate change, the crises within Britain are the urgent priority, and where the UK government already has all the power needed to change things.

The Tories should concentrate on changing their attitude towards Britain, not changing our attitude towards Europe. Britain can and should help to lead Europe. Exit would be abject failure.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative

Fundamentally my reason for voting to leave the EU is that I believe the laws we abide by and the taxes we pay should be set by people who are directly accountable to the British people. We should at the very least be able to name them. One of the most frustrating things I have experienced as an MP is to have to tell constituents, when they contact me passionately about an issue, that there is nothing I can do to change a law or influence a decision.

People have concerns about TTIP, the EU’s proposed trade deal with the US which aims to make trade between EU nations and the US even easier, but which would also open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. Many are concerned this could essentially mean the privatisation of the NHS and they have asked me to step in. I cannot, nor can the UK Government.

When my constituents contacted me to express their disgust that women’s sanitary products are taxed as a luxury good, it was incredibly frustrating to have to explain to them that I, and the UK Government, could do nothing to change that. Our Prime Minister was forced to ask the permission of EU technocrats to make a simple change to our VAT code which presently discriminates against women. He was told his request would have to be agreed by the other 27 member states. That still has not happened. I believe the British people deserve to have their taxes set by politicians they can hold to account. Taxation without representation is a fundamental backwards step for a nation which has exported democracy around the world.

Another area in which our membership of the EU undermines the UK’s ability to make decisions for ourselves is in animal welfare. Live exports of animals, sheep in particular, to France and other European nations is considered by many to be a cruel breach of animal welfare standards. To ban the practice is a breach of EU law (free movement of goods) and the most which can be hoped for is a proposed ban on live export journeys of greater than eight hours, which would not affect the majority of exports to France, and is legislation which has now been ‘proposed’ at EU level for nine years with no resolution.

The British people will decide the outcome of this referendum and I firmly believe their votes should determine who makes all the laws under which they live, how their money is spent and what it is spent on. British democracy has been exported worldwide – now is the time to take back control of it.