Chancellor George Osborne has warned that flood defence protection schemes in the region could be imperilled by a vote to leave the European Union.
In an interview with The Yorkshire Post Mr Osborne said that a vote to exit Europe on June 23 would invariably lead to a reduction in public spending, with large-scale schemes like those planned for Leeds and Calderdale less likely to be built or maintained as a result.
In the second part of this newspaper’s wide-ranging interview with the chancellor, Mr Osborne also claimed that the Conservatives would not be damaged by the fractious referendum campaign which has seen Tory frontbenchers often exchanging very harsh words. Yorkshire was wracked by extensive flooding last Christmas with the damage to the region’s economy estimated to have ran into hundreds of millions.
When asked about his decision regarding applications to the EU to aid with flood defence spending, Mr Osborne said: “We will apply for EU funding if it is going to bring us more money and the truth of it is that whilst it was worthwhile in the end applying the most we could do was to provide it at home.
“I do not look to the EU simply as a source of cash, I look at the economic connections that allow us to have the money here at home in our public finances that can pay for things like flood defences so we can afford to commit to Yorkshire to pay for them.”
He added: “Let’s be clear, there is going to be a big hole in the nation’s finances which independent experts say will £20-£40bn, that’s according to the IFS.
“Where is the money going to come from?
“Let’s not pretend we can afford to pay for our public spending and that the British taxpayers can fund our flood defences to the same degree, we would have a big hole and it mean very difficult decisions about what to cut.
“Frankly, I don’t think that’s a price worth paying.”
The campaign has seen the Tory party racked with bitter internal divisions over whether we should remain in the EU, something the chancellor said he felt was a red herring, claiming that the remain movement had the support of a broad coalition of political parties.
“Of course there are members of the Conservative Party who take a differing view, some of whom are people I work closely with and people who are my friends.
“The overwhelming body of British political thought is for remain; the leaderships of the Labour Party, the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Greens, the majority of businesses large and small, the trade union movement in the main, are all saying remain in.
“It is a portion of the Conservative party and UKIP that wants to leave. By my rough count there are 650 odd MPs, around 500 who want to stay in the EU, including the vast majority of those MPs in Yorkshire and the Humber.
“We will come together as a Conservative family after the election, but we do disagree on this issue. However ultimately it is not about my view, or Boris’s view, it’s a about the views of the voters here.
“I would say to people it is not about one politician’s career, or who is up or down in the Conservative Party, these are transient things.
“This decision however on our membership of the EU will be with us for decades and we will live with the consequences of this decision for decades.”