Here is the first 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.
We will be putting the questions to the candidates that stood in the constituency at last May’s General Election for the Lib Dems, Labour, Ukip and the Greens as well as the current MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan. If you would like to submit a question for the politicians, contact Ben O’Connell on 01665 602234 or email using the link at the top of the page.
The first question, from Alnwick resident Dudley George, is: Regardless of your own opinion on Brexit, is the Government culpably negligent in refusing to prepare for an option it has chosen to present to the British people, and which would require massive effort to fully implement?
Nigel Coghill-Marshall, Ukip
It is true that the referendum on our continued membership of the EU is but the first step on the road towards our exit from the embryonic super-state envisaged by its founders.
The Government has certainly been disingenuous in its approach to negotiations, assuming, like Harold Wilson in 1975, that it will be able to fool the electorate into voting to remain. In failing to confirm that they will accept the result if it is to leave, they have been at best insincere, at worst dishonest.
Assuming that we do vote to leave, the next step will be for our parliament to accept the will of the people and for the Government to give notice of our intention to leave under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It will take two years to negotiate our new relationship with the EU. They should be planning their strategy for those negotiations and recognising that they present a real opportunity for the country. Only the independent Bank of England has started to prepare for our exit.
Nation and region should not fear leaving the EU, we will prosper. Free from the constraints of an insular Europe we will succeed. The government, though, should be exploring and planning our opportunities as a sovereign nation. In failing to do so they are incompetent rather than culpably negligent.
In their attitude towards those who wish to leave and in their attempts to stop opponents speaking out, they are certainly contemptuous of the electorate. This potentially alienates voters to the extent that they will feel unable to participate in this, the most important vote of our lifetime. Therein lies the real danger. A small turnout favours neither side of the argument.
Scott Dickinson, Labour
I’m going to put my cards on the table. I’m voting to stay in the EU and this is why.
Northumberland benefits from a more integrated EU. It’s really as simple as that. We see flows of inward investment which means jobs. We have access to a ‘common market’ which allows our products and services to span the biggest single market in the world. We have influence over what goes on in that ‘common market’.
In Northumberland, our economy is hugely influenced by agriculture and tourism. For example, our farmers pick up many millions (over £300million) in payments from the Common Agricultural Policy and this is especially true in north Northumberland. I want to work to protect and grow our economic opportunities.
Of course, the EU isn’t perfect in the same way as national governments aren’t perfect, but I think that most people will see that pushing for change is easier from the inside than sitting carping on the sidelines. Make no mistake, if we want to change the way Europe operates, we can’t do that from outside. It’s as simple as that.
My personal view is the Government position is dictated by the machinations of the Conservative Party and not what’s in the interests of Northumberland. That means that Northumberland’s interests are being sacrificed for narrow party interest.
In Northumberland, we can see that Tory tension – Guy Opperman as a pro-European and Anne-Marie Trevelyan who is championing the ‘outers’. Guy is silent – AMT is very vocal, but neither they nor the PM is explaining what the impact of leaving the EU would be for north Northumberland in particular, but Northumberland in general.
For me, the EU is about economic opportunities that create jobs. It really is as simple as that.
Julie Pörksen, Liberal Democrats
Taking the momentous decision to stay in or leave Europe will be, for some – a question of emotion or principle, for others – a calculation of costs and benefits, for many – a combination.
Besides a vote on our future (unless you are 16 or 17 sadly), what everyone has the right to is trustworthy facts to inform their decision. On the doorstep, whatever their personal position on Europe, I meet people who want, and are not getting, independent facts.
Trustworthy facts must be provided by the Government to answer individual and general questions: Will I be able to study in Spain?
Will low-paid European nurses have to leave after five years?
What is the cost of ‘conversion’ – what will have to be sacrificed to pay for it – will dualling the A1 be ditched to help find the budget for a passport-control border for Northern Ireland?
Europe provides a long-term basis for our economy faced by the pendulum of British politics. Across Europe, rural people and environments remain valued by their national governments and French farmers can get stroppy.
Our Northumberland landscape, environment, farm and rural businesses, and communities are supported by being in Europe. In Northumberland, what would leaving Europe mean to us?
The Government should publish an alternative budget, forecasts for the next five to 10 years, a legislative programme, a timeline for new trade deals, all detailing the impacts on sectors and regions, including rural areas, to show us what changes would happen in practice.
The lack of preparation is negligent. The referendum on staying in or leaving the European Union is, I believe, the decision with the most far-reaching and long-term consequences that we will face in our lifetime – we have the right to make an informed choice.
My choice is stay in.
Rachael Roberts, Green
A generous opinion would be that the Government’s approach to this is a catalogue of negligence; political incompetence with the real risk of the UK falling out of Europe ‘by mistake’ and a subsequent risk to the EU itself. There is no leadership, just playing to the gallery.
The original purpose of what would become the EU was to make future war in Europe unthinkable. Break-up now, for the purposes of narrow political advantage, is hugely dangerous.
The recent Scottish referendum showed how Government negligence led to the real possibility of the UK disintegrating. Westminster refused to admit to any preparation in the event of a Yes vote. Instead, when panicked by the opinion polls, they resorted to unconsidered promises, and David Cameron gave the appearance of inventing policy as he went along. Can we expect some similarly half-baked promises the morning after an EU referendum?
In Northumberland, there is no planning from national or local government for loss of jobs, of funding, of environmental protection, and of people’s rights, which Brexit would inevitably bring.
The EU was established as a free-trade area, but has developed into far more – some admirable (workers’ rights, environmental regulations), some where the demands of free trade are beyond justification (TTIP). Reform must come from within. Shouting from the sidelines is impotence. This Government’s leadership failure gives an all-too-real chance of exit and continent-wide chaos.
(A less generous opinion is that Government has prepared but refuses to disclose those preparations. This strategy is carefully calculated but unpublicised – a deliberate policy of destabilisation. In this scenario, it would not be our democracy that is sovereign after a Brexit, but the interests of bankers, hedge funds, tax-dodging big business and super-rich landowners).
Exit is not freedom, it is failure.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative
I am but a lowly backbencher, but I understand that Government ministers have chosen to publicly declare that no preparatory work in the event of a leave majority vote has been done.
As a member of the Public Accounts Committee Select Committee, I talk to civil servant Permanent Secretaries every week and a great deal of risk-management work goes on in any number of areas. I have no doubt that is the case in this area too.
Policy change considerations are being reviewed as a general part of contingency work, as in any other company or big organisation.
I will be voting to leave the EU, because it is time for us to take back control of our country, our laws and for the British people to be able to have MPs who are actually directly accountable to them on the way the country is run.
I believe the risks of remaining in the EU – a political project which I believe is failing – is too great.
I want us to be a friendly trading partner and a military ally to other European nations, but I believe the UK, which has for the last thousand years been a unique maritime outward-looking nation should, can and will do the best for its people standing tall and separate from the Franco-German single federal state.
Imagine what we could do if we stopped sending £350million to Brussels every week. That’s enough to build and staff a new hospital every single week. It’s 60 times what we spend on the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund.
After we vote leave, we can spend our money on our priorities, and the British people can decide what those priorities are by electing MPs who are directly accountable to them.