The great thing about today’s referendum is that everyone gets to have their say and each person’s vote counts the same as another's, but I wanted to set out why I personally voted to remain part of the European Union.'
For our region, the biggest issue at stake in this referendum is the local economy and thousands of skilled jobs reliant on Europe. Brexit will put these and Teesside’s recovery at risk.
Our area has been devastated recently by the closure of SSI and the loss of over 175 years of steel making. On top of job losses at Boulby Potash and Air Products, three thousand jobs were lost overnight at the works, with many more in the wider community – everyone from window cleaners to child minders has been affected in some way.
Some people have sought to channel the justified anger and sense of betrayal that we feel against Europe, but that would result in us ‘cutting off our nose to spite our face’ by hitting our remaining industries.
At the time the government said they couldn't intervene to save SSI due to European State Aid rules. We knew that wasn't the case, and even gained confirmation of this from the European Commission. The fact that the government is now discussing a state loan of hundreds of millions of pounds to stop Tata’s UK business closing shows that Europe was not the barrier. Our own government was.
The Tory government have also blocked the EU from implementing tougher action against cheap Chinese steel which would have given some protection to the UK steel industry. Then, following the closure of Redcar steelworks, refused to apply for support from the £500 million European Globalisation Adjustment Fund which is available to areas like ours which have been hit by large scale redundancies.
Europe did not refuse to help our area; our own government did.
I recognise the frustration people have with today’s economic pressures on things like jobs, wages and affordable housing. Our world is more globally linked than ever before, and in Redcar & Cleveland we have been at the sharp end when decisions made in China affected local industry. But leaving Europe will not make these problems go away. As frustrating as it is, we can't shut ourselves off from these challenges. In fact, we will have even less control over them if we leave Europe because they are issues best tackled by working with other countries.
We now have to rebuild our economy on Teesside. This means getting inward investment, growing small and medium enterprises and regenerating our area. In the Redcar constituency, we have two major assets which are vital to our economic recovery. Both the Teesport and Wilton International benefit hugely from access to the European Union.
Across our region, many more businesses like Nissan, Hitachi and Nifco benefit from open access to the European market. A vote to leave will mean several years of instability and uncertainty, with businesses delaying investment decisions or taking their work elsewhere. In fact, the North East Process Industry Cluster joined business leaders from across the region to say that leaving the EU would deter investment, threaten jobs and put the North East economy at risk.
There are many other projects, such as the Teesside Advanced Manufacturing Park, which rely on EU funding, and many local businesses that rely on exports to the single market. Our region is a net recipient of EU funds and we are entitled to more European funds than any other English region. The European Social Fund alone paid £157million into the North East between 2007 and 2013, and we are due £726million from the EU over the next five years. Support we would not receive if a Tory government had control of the funding pot.
The EU has also kept people safe at work and protects our rights as a consumer. It protects paid leave (before EU membership we had no right to paid holiday), maternity rights and equal rights for agency workers. A Tory government in a Britain outside of Europe would soon get to work cutting back these protections.
We have a huge job on to rebuild our local economy and regenerate our area, but the EU has a vital role to play in this. Leaving would be a huge risk to take. We are far stronger and greater as a country by being in Europe and leading on tackling the problems we all face. I urge you to join me in voting Remain today.