Opinion: The East Midlands would suffer without Europe

Vince Cable speaking York Europe Jobs Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsIf we needed reminding how vital Europe is to British jobs in regions like the East Midlands, the bosses of car giants Hyundai and Toyota spelt it out.

As a European candidate in May’s elections I was alarmed to read that Hyundai, who have a base in Corby, warned against leaving the EU saying that if the UK were no longer in the single market it would throw up ‘barriers’ to doing business. There was a similar message from the boss of Toyota, who run a plant just outside Derby.

Months of shrill anti-Europe rhetoric from UKIP are already frightening some of Britain’s biggest manufacturers who employ tens of thousands. Even fund manager George Soros is predicting disaster if Britain pull up the drawbridge.

It is increasingly clear to voters that only the Liberal Democrats are standing up for European investment and British jobs. This is in stark contrast to the Little Englander mentality of the Right who, for a few voters, are willing to play Russian Roulette with up to three million jobs that depend on trade with the EU.

Our future does not lay on living an isolated existence on the fringe of Europe, a country without vital rules to guarantee millions of workers rights such as holiday entitlement. We would instantly lack the collective bargaining power of the EU with trade agreements.

Our farmers would lose £3 billion in subsidies, we would junk common food standards and, as parts of the country are battered by storms, Britain would become the King Canute of the West, in denial as environmental disasters lap around our feet.

As Barack Obama has indicated, Britain’s fabled ‘special relationship’ is based in large part on our influence in Europe. Without this we would no longer be a big player on the world stage. To give just one example, the local cheese industry which would face huge dairy tariffs, hitting several East Midlands towns and villages hard.

In the East Midlands we have an excellent hardworking MEP in Bill Newton-Dunn who is fighting for our interests on business investment and regeneration. Under UKIP the region would see a steep rise in unemployment as factories close their gates.

The European Regional Development Fund has invested £224 million in the East Midlands in the last five years to support businesses and help the most disadvantaged in society. This is just one strand of EU investment that has helped local people. Without it we would be poorer, literally.

The UK already has arguably the most flexible labour market in the Western world so the claim that we are tied up with red tape from Brussels is a myth.

Talk of leaving Europe does nothing to help EU countries that are struggling, nor those, like Germany, who are doing well. And it won’t help Britain either, so it’s a classic lose-lose.

David Cameron’s commitment to a referendum in which most of his party would campaign to be ‘out’ indicates he remains firmly in the pocket of Tory Eurosceptics.

Meanwhile Ed Miliband’s promise of a referendum if there are any new treaties is slamming the breaks on progress. Labour don’t seem to realise Europe is a developing project that cannot be frozen in time. If we want to reform the eurozone or decision-making in Brussels no one will take us seriously if Britain threatens an in-out referendum every time reform is on the table.

So the choice at the Euro elections is clear; do we want a party that will fight for jobs from Europe or do we want an isolationist party that would take Britain back to the state we were in in the days before we joined the EEA?

Forward or backwards, that’s the choice voters have in May. Only the Liberal Democrats have a vision of Britain in Europe that is socially and culturally rich and economically prosperous. I urge all Lib Dem candidates to go out and sell our positive message, because there is everything to play for this May.

* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here

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5 Comments

  • Pro-European 22nd Mar '14 - 11:46am

    One of the problems with the pro-Europeans seems to be that their arguments often seem to reinforce the anti-European ones! This seems to be the case for many of the arguments presented here.

    Much of the anti-European sentiment seems to me focussed on issues of identity which are then muddled up with sovereignty. So saying that we should be pro-European because foreign managers threaten to damage us economically does not seem to me to be an effective counter-argument: quite the reverse, people will say, let them go, we’ll be better off without them. Few anti-Europeans will take any notice of claims that we are better off in Europe. And if our talk of leaving Europe doesn’t help some other European nations, some anti-Europeans will say hurray, let’s talk some more, and some will ask: why are we obligated to help them, and doesn’t this just show how being in Europe stifles our freedom of expression as well as our economic prosperity?

    So I think some different kinds of arguments are needed.

  • To be honest the article just says lets surrender our country to big business and definitely don’t ask the people. The economic argument is almost certainly wrong anyway – the UK is likely to do better as an independent global trading nation.

  • It does seem that Issan and others are already fighting an EU referendum (ie. don’t vote for UKIP) rather than for the election of MEPs. I wonder if it is because it is difficult to to say what UK MEPs can achieve and traditional manifesto based campaigning is not really appropriate given that we aren’t (yet) electing parties on an EU wide basis.

  • Alex Macfie 24th Mar '14 - 2:55pm

    @Roland: Parties do form EU-wide alliances (EPP, ALDE, S&D etc) which put out EU-wide manifestos. Also for this European Parliamentary election the main parties are putting up candidates for President of the European Commission. MEPs sit and vote as members of those EU-wide party groups, although party discipline there is much weaker than in most national parliaments so they often do their own thing; one thing they do not tend to do, however, is vote along national lines.
    The biggest obstacle to manifesto-based campaigning for European Parliamentary elections is probably public ignorance of what the European Parliament actually does, encouraged by the media which rarely reports on it. We really need a televised debate among the leaders of the UK *European Parliamentary* parties; this might focus minds on different political (in the sense of centre-left vs centre-right vs liberal) visions of the EU.

  • @Alex Macfie
    Thanks for your very informative contribution, what is quite telling is reviewing Issan’s (and others) article against it to see the extent of the obstacle/ignorance you refer to; it’s not just the public but also the UK political parties themselves not wishing to really change the debate.

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