Sunday, 28 February 2016

My initial view on the EU referendum

Ever since David Cameron announced that there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, there have been plenty of dramatic headlines and waves of claim and counter-claim.

The United Kingdom Independence Party and others claim that the EU costs £55 million a day (or £20 billion a year). But this “gross contribution” figure is somewhat greater than the Treasury’s own figures. It also neglects to reference the “UK” rebate or other monies that come back into this country.

The Treasury states that, for 2015/2016, the “net contribution” to the EU will actually be £8.5 billion. 

I have also seen figures from the European Commission, which notes additional monies paid direct to the private sector such as research grants. This reduces the “net contribution” to be less than £7 billion.

One campaign organisation Leave.EU has meanwhile claimed that the “average household could be £933 better off if the UK left the EU.” But Britain Stronger in Europe have countered with the argument that “trade, investment, jobs and lower prices” linked to membership of the EU is “worth £3,000 per year to every household.” Others have challenged the reliability of both figures!

Is it any wonder so many people are perplexed by the whole debate? I would certainly appeal to everyone involved in the referendum campaign to reduce the “spin” and to “inform” and keep the arguments as balanced as possible.

From my perspective, I have always been instinctively supportive of the concept of the EU and I will be voting to remain.

I recognise that many positive initiatives have come out of European co-operation such as improved environmental controls and a host of protections for workers.

It is also the case that since Cornwall was recognised as a European region, it has secured significant and much-needed investment through EU structural funds.

Cornwall has been a net beneficiary of EU funding, an important investment for many local businesses – large and small – and for numerous key projects such as the university and superfast broadband.

But much of the debate so far has, inevitably, been dominated by Westminster politicians, the City of London, key participants in the various campaign groups, and peripheral concerns such as the future leadership of the Conservative Party.

Whatever your view on the referendum, I believe it is essential that we do our utmost to ensure that the significance of the issue for Cornwall (and similar areas) is also at the very heart of the debate.

[This will be my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].

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