EUROPE DEBATE: Back a secure, prosperous future in EU

Julie Pörksen, who stood as the Lib Dem candidate at the last General Election, explains why she thinks Britain should stay in the EU.

Saturday, 12th March 2016, 10:30 am
Julie Porksen at Gallows Hill Farm, Cambo.

Recently a friend contacted me, really surprised: “I’ve just been on the most useful, practical course – it will really help my new business. And, do you know, the EU paid for it?”

For our national media, any good news about the European Union – funds, people, businesses, the environment – is just not newsworthy.

The Government actually had to be pressured to apply for EU flood relief funds. Asking for help in times of crisis is not something to dither about – it’s what friends do. Knowing the EU is there to support us in emergencies is reassuring and is definitely good news.

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Yet it’s not just at difficult times we benefit from our EU membership. We are stronger by being in Europe.

In Northumberland and the North East, we are fortunate that the EU considers that regions like ours should be helped to realise their economic potential – and that the EU believes that rural areas need supporting. Where Westminster is failing, we can rely on the EU to help us prosper.

Other rural areas know this too and if England votes to leave the EU, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland vote to remain in, this will most likely lead to the break-up of the UK and we will see a passport-controlled border at Berwick should Scotland leave the UK.

Investment in Britain is enhanced by being in Europe – both in terms of direct EU funding and through the facilitation of private sector investment. Our region prospers and thrives through new investment. Being a member of the EU guarantees investors’ stability, with access to the internal market and human resources – things that businesses prize the most.

Stability is a key driver for investment: We can see how uncertainty affected the pound recently and investment during the Scottish referendum.

The pendulum of British politics does not provide for a stable outlook.

Nissan is the iconic investment for the North East and is here precisely because we are in the EU. Being in the EU increases the prospect of future Nissan-scale investments in our region.

Britain’s overall economic prosperity is largely driven by our financial services sector. As the primary European financial centre, London is dependent on being in Europe.

If we leave the EU, other financial centres in Europe would compete to draw away global businesses.

New trade deals take years to negotiate and have conditions attached. We cannot negotiate with individual EU nations – the EU is a single trading entity. Admission to the EU’s free market requires large payments, compliance with – but no influence over – rules and – like Norway – the free movement of people between the UK and the rest of the EU. ‘Brexit’ will not stop European immigration.

The only foreign power relishing the prospect of Britain leaving the EU is Vladimir Putin’s Russia – perhaps in itself a reason for voting to stay in!

Many sectors, from horticulture to care homes, are unable to attract sufficient British employees, so depend on non-UK employees.

Even with the free movement of European labour, the NHS’s doctors, nurses and paramedics are being stretched to the limit due to a human resources crisis.

Reducing the potential pool of qualified recruits will damage the NHS and hurt those who depend on it.

Our green and pleasant land is valued by Europe.

Farming as we know it, supporting low food prices, rural communities and businesses, high animal welfare standards, environmental standards influencing habitats and landscapes which tourists travel to see – these are all supported by the Common Agricultural Policy.

This has evolved from post-war food production into environmental and rural development. Through European funding and access to European markets, our farmers are able to survive without needing to run industrial-scale units which would be publicly unacceptable.

Thanks to the EU we have some minimum standards – clean air and beaches, food labelling, maternity benefit, equal pay, holiday entitlement – and we have useful maximums too. I can’t quite imagine mobile phone operators reducing their roaming charges across Europe out of the goodness of their hearts.

The value of peace in Europe cannot be underestimated. Daily, we see the absolute human, economic, cultural and environmental destruction of war on our televisions. Following the horror of war for my grandparents’ generation, it must have been such a relief for them to know their children would never be called up to fight.

In many countries in Europe, the horror and trial of occupation did not stop after the last war and freedom only came through escaping the Soviet system. I believe we should be proud that the EU supported many countries on their path to peace, democracy, freedom and prosperity, and that many of those countries are now thriving within and contributing to the European Union. Being within the EU makes Britain safer and more secure; particularly important in a period of turmoil around the world.

Many young people I meet are looking for new opportunities. I thought I was young when I first lived and worked abroad aged 26, for a charity in Peru – in today’s world, I’d already be ‘past it’. I think it’s fantastic that so many young people do have the opportunity to travel, study and work abroad – it is so easy to do this in Europe.

The EU referendum is a decision of a lifetime, much more important than any council or even General Election. There won’t be a chance to change our minds in five years’ time, and every vote will count.

If you are unsure whether you will vote or how you will vote, it might help to talk to a young person and find out their views. After all, this referendum is not about recreating our past. It is about creating a prosperous and secure future for all our children.