Over the last few months we’ve been out and about talking with our constituents about the EU Referendum. With a few days to go, there are still many people who are undecided about how to vote on 23rd June in what is the most important political decision that they, and this country, will take in a generation: whether we should remain in or leave the EU.
So that’s why we wanted to tell you why we are campaigning to remain in the EU. The key reason for us is the trade UK businesses do with the EU, and the jobs associated with this trade. Over 3.5m jobs, 14,000 in Oldham alone. And this trade contributes in excess of £220bn to the economy every year. The taxes raised from these businesses and workers pays for our public services, including our NHS and care services, the Police, our schools as well as our pensions and other social security support. As a member of the EU, UK businesses can access to the largest single market in the world without having to pay any tariffs (taxes) to the country importing UK goods.
As Roger Shepley, a local businessman who exports to Europe said:
“We’re in real danger of going from cool Britannia to fool Britannia in the eyes of other countries across the world if we vote to leave the EU. I travel around the globe for business reasons and I can tell you that the UK is greatly respected as part of the EU and being part of it significantly reduces the amount of administration I need to go through to do business.
“If we leave, the burden of having to negotiate new contracts with other countries will increase businesses’ administration costs and make our products less attractive. I can’t understand why we would want to leave when we know it would make doing business with the rest of the world more difficult. The bottom line is we’re better off as part of the EU.”
Independent evidence from the economic think tank, the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), which looked at 14 separate economic assessments, has concluded that it is the uncertainty that is such a risk to the economy. If we vote to leave, we would have no trade deals with any of the 28 EU countries we currently trade with and the 60 countries beyond the EU who we trade with freely because of EU trade deals. We would have to start from scratch, negotiating the terms of trade. In the best case scenario that economists have looked at, this would mean becoming part of the European Economic Area like Norway and Switzerland, and the earliest that this could realistically be achieved by is 2019. And because of this, they estimate that the economy would shrink by 2.1%, much more than the 0.6% that we could afford to lose because of getting our contribution to the EU budget back. In the worst case scenario, no trade agreement is reached by 2019 and GDP would fall even harder. We saw in the 2008 financial crisis the true impact on Oldham. Jobs were lost, some lost their homes and public services and investment from Government were slashed. If another financial crisis comes who will feel it most; Oxfordshire or Oldham? Again the IFS estimate public spending would be cut by at least £15bn a year.
As another Oldham businessman, Craig Dean, told us:
“Quite simply, this is the most important decision for the electorate in a generation. The burden of proof lies with those making the case for change, and they must provide evidenced and rational arguments. Sadly, the arguments have been emotional, nationalistic and fear-driven. In the absence of reasoned argument, a good decision cannot be made, and logically the better option is to vote for the status quo.”
Through recent EU Structural Funds we have seen 20,000 new business start-ups, 50,000 new jobs and 1,300 Research & Development projects. And by 2020, EU Structural Funds will contribute £9.5bn to the UK’s economic development, including £356m across Greater Manchester. On top of that, on average EU countries invest £24bn a year in the UK. According to the Bank of England, we are already seeing concerns about whether we will remain in the EU affecting this investment, with £65bn withdrawn from the UK in March and April compared with just £2bn six months earlier.
But it’s not just about trade and investment. Infectious diseases like Zika and Ebola don’t recognise borders! Nor do criminal gangs, or tax evaders. Or air pollutants that affect climate change and our health. All of these issues require us to work closely with the EU and more widely. Since 2009, the EU arrest warrant has been used to return 1,100 suspected criminals to the UK to face justice while we have deported 7,400 people who were suspected of crimes. We’ve also been able to refuse entry to the UK to over 6,000 EU nationals by sharing intelligence data across the EU.
It would be fair to say that many people have raised concerns about immigration when we have chatted with them. This is particularly so where there are housing pressures and when other public services, such as the NHS and, increasingly, education, are in crisis. But immigration was also raised as an issue in areas where there is little diversity or problems with services. This probably says more about the daily pressures people are facing and how politicians on the centre left and centre right have failed to have any meaningful debate about immigration until now. Prior to that it was discussed only under duress from certain political parties, always inflammatory and always negative.
But we have also had many emails and other contacts urging us to do more about the dreadful plight of Syrian and other refugees. The haunting pictures on our television screens of children’s bodies washed up on beaches, as they die risking life and limb crossing the Mediterranean, because the terror they and their families faced in their home country was far, far worse, has touched thousands of people. The unaccompanied children living in absolute squalor on our doorstep in the Calais ‘jungle’, vulnerable to the worst kinds of exploitation, have left many of us thinking, what if that was my child?
We are proud that in the wake of the Second World War, the UK helped to draft and was one of the first signatories to the UN Convention for Refugees so that anyone, anywhere could claim refuge from persecution. We believe most people feel that way too. But for some, superimposed on top of this, are feelings of fear about jobs, public services but also about difference. What about my job? Will employers want to pay me less, or even replace me? What about my kids’ education? Will there be enough school places? Where will they live? What about housing supply? Will it push rents and housing prices up? Will they be good neighbours?
And many of these questions relate to economic migrants from the EU as well. Politicians must respond to these issues by engaging with communities to understand the local impacts of migration. We must make sure that communities with migrant populations are appropriately resourced and supported so that pressure on services are mitigated, migrant and indigenous communities get to know each other, and employers are prohibited from undercutting local wages by recruiting solely from the EU. We have been pushing hard for this and Keir Starmer, the Shadow Minister for Immigration, has visited Oldham a number of times to discuss local people’s concerns.
But we must also understand the huge role that migrants have and continue to play in our economy, for example, with approximately 1 in 4 doctors coming from abroad, 1 in 5 care workers coming from the EU, as well as 130,000 NHS workers. Although there are year on year variations according to the IFS, it’s estimated that all migration contributes about 1% GDP to the economy (about £20bn), with EU migrants contributing the most.
There are many challenges that we face as individuals and families; sometimes we can solve them on our own. But problems such as how to make sure we have cheap, sustainable food or energy supplies or combat climate change or develop and trial new medicines require co-operation and collaboration not isolation. Although we recognise the EU isn’t perfect, we believe the best way to address these challenges is by being part of Europe, leading not leaving. Working together, we are stronger.
Debbie Abrahams Jim McMahon Angela Rayner
MP for Oldham East & Saddleworth MP for Oldham West & Royton MP for Ashton-u-Lyne