Tim Farron: Britain braced for momentous day of decision

WITH Boris Johnson and David Cameron engaged in a blue v blue Tory punch up, it sometimes seems the EU referendum on June 23 is nothing more than a bloody Tory leadership election campaign squabbling about bananas. But this is a momentous decision with massive consequences for the region.

Tim Farron, left, joins David Cameron at a Remain campaign event.

The leave campaign wants you to forget that voting to leave will endanger our access to the world’s most valuable single market. Over 250,000 jobs in Yorkshire, or almost one in 10, are linked to trade with the EU. I would never suggest these jobs would all vanish if we left, but the fact is Yorkshire remains hugely dependent on trade with EU countries.

A massive £8.4bn of goods were exported from the Yorkshire and Humber region to the EU in 2014, accounting for virtually half of all exports. Four out of five of this region’s top export destinations are in the EU – the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and France.

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Take Swift Caravans, from Cottingham in the East Riding. They are Britain’s largest caravan makers, but the company’s growth is underpinned by success in Europe, principally in Germany and Holland. Can we be 100 per cent certain that these trade links will be maintained, on the same terms, if we were to vote to leave?

Lord Lawson, the former Conservative chancellor now campaigning for us to leave Europe, has admitted that the event of a Brexit, British exporters might have to pay four per cent duty on everything we sell to European neighbours.

Already, investment is plummeting and the pound is under strain, owing to uncertainty over whether Britain will retain access to the world’s most lucrative market. As we emerge from one of the most punishing recessions in recent memory, our priority must be to protect jobs and household incomes.

Nigel Farage and others in the Leave campaign suggest that we will magically increase trade with the rest of the world by leaving the EU. This is a false choice. We don’t need to choose between trading with China or Chiantishire; we can do both.

But the case for remaining in the EU is about more than jobs, higher food prices or increased mortgage rates, vital as the economics are. It is also a defining moment for Britain’s influence in the world.

Some claim that, because we have pooled some power in return for access to the single market, we are somehow weaker as a country. But the challenges we face, from climate change to international terrorism and the refugee crisis, all demand cross border co-operation. I passionately believe we are stronger and safer when we work with our neighbours to tackle threats to our prosperity and security.

As with our membership of Nato, being in the EU magnifies our influence. Turning our backs on allies, perhaps even helping the disintegration of the European Union, is not the patriotic choice. I would much prefer to see Britain being a powerful force for good.

Membership of the EU provides all of us with the right to live, study and work freely across the EU. Young people in particular have told me how important this is to them, because of the opportunities and career choices it brings.

Our EU membership also protects workers’ rights such as paid holiday and parental leave. EU laws have banned discrimination against older people in the workplace and put in place minimum accessibility standards for disabled people across the EU. Do we really want these basic rights to be torn up and re-written by Michael Gove and his merry band of Brexiteers?

There is much talk of what we put into the EU, less about what we take out. Yorkshire is one of the biggest beneficiaries of EU regional funding. This leads to vital investment in infrastructure projects, support for rural communities and creating opportunities for young unemployed people. From £15m of funding for superfast broadband networks across Yorkshire and the Humber, to £39,000 in support for Whitby’s Children’s Centre, EU funding is helping to drive investment and job creation.

Britain’s EU membership is central to the future prosperity of Yorkshire and the Humber. I would urge you to think hard about what kind of country you want to live in, and leave to your children. Will exiting the European Union stage right really make us wealthier, safer or greener?

I’m an optimist: Liberal Democrats are optimists. As the biggest gainers in last month’s local elections, my party’s optimism was vindicated. I want to see a strong, confident and optimistic Britain that is working with its neighbours to help deliver prosperity, peace and a cleaner planet for future generations. This is why my party and I are campaigning for a vote to remain in the EU on June 23. We hope you will join us.

Tim Farron MP is leader of the Liberal Democrats.