I have been listening to your views about the referendum on our membership of the European Union, which is on 23rd June.
It seems clear that, despite all the arguments for and against, many people are still looking for an answer and haven’t made up their mind. People have said to me that there are so many conflicting statistics about the impact of either leave or remain on the economy, that they are left none the wiser.
On 23rd June, we are going to be making a decision on one of the most important issues in a generation – whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union or leave. I believe that this vote could be very close, and I find it quite scary to think what might happen to Britain outside of the European trading area.
Ahead of the vote I wanted to tell you my view. I am committed to keeping the UK in the EU as I believe it is the best framework for European trade and co-operation in the 21st century.
The EU has brought investment, jobs, and protection for employees, consumers and the environment – it has lowered costs on everything from passenger air fares to mobile phone roaming charges.
In terms of trade, the access we have to the European market enables us to sell our goods freely to a population of 500 million people, which enables investment in jobs in this country. In the North West alone, it is estimated that 350, 000 jobs are linked to exports to EU countries.
Of course, multinational companies from all over the world choose to build their offices and factories in the UK as this allows them a gateway into the European Single Market to trade freely. Should we leave the EU and have to pay tariffs these companies would more than likely leave Britain and this would inevitably lead to significant job losses.
Since the Second World War, the European Union has been instrumental in bringing peace and security to our continent. Now, combined EU diplomacy, can help us achieve more to secure peace and challenge human rights abuses across the world. At a time of instability in Ukraine and the Middle East, it’s important to be part of a group of nations committed to peace, security and democracy.
A significant benefit of being in the EU, is the vital protections provided to British workers through the European Social Charter, such as paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, protection for agency workers, and health and safety in the workplace. I am concerned that if Britain were to leave the EU, future Governments would be able to erode these protections that are so important to workers.
I know that some people are concerned about the levels of immigration and the impact this has on resources in the UK. The reality is that we have an ageing population and we need a growing working population to support the growing numbers of people who are not economically active. It is simply not the case that EU migrant workers are taking jobs away from British workers. EU migrant workers often work in industry jobs that have not been filled by British workers, for example one in five carers looking after our growing elderly population have come to Britain from the EU and elsewhere.
Many EU migrants make an important contribution to our country by working in our public services, notably the NHS, where thousands are nurses, midwives and health visitors. EU migrants contribute more to our economy than they take out, and the tax they pay helps to fund our NHS, schools and other public services. Since 2001, workers coming here from the rest of Europe have paid £20 billion more in taxes than they have claimed in benefits.
I am convinced that remaining in the EU is in the best interests of the country and our people, not only for what the EU delivers today, but as a framework through which we can achieve more in the future.