David Cameron’s gamble could end up costing the North East dearly


Iain Wright MPIain Wright MP, Labour's Member of Parliament for Hartlepool writing for today's Northern Echo: 

My constituency of Hartlepool has always had a proud and independent streak. We like to stand alone and don’t feel the need to be part of a wider body, whether that is the County of Cleveland, the Tees Valley or Europe.

 Throughout our history as a town we’ve always enjoyed a healthy and robust debate about our place in the world. You would expect nothing less from a port town looking out across the North Sea which it made its prosperity from reaching out and trading with the rest of the world. Speak to many people in Hartlepool and across the North East, you will find common agreement that the EU needs to change and reform. However, when I speak with my constituents, I find that the issue of Europe and its reform is far down the list of concerns of many local people. In a time of economic uncertainty the vast majority are more worried about their family finances, about their jobs and about their children’s futures.

This week David Cameron decided that what Britain needed was four years of uncertainty, all because he had some troublesome backbenchers to manage. It’s a return to the 1990s. A weakened Tory Prime Minister facing revolt over Europe from his backbenchers and some in his Cabinet. David Cameron is John Major in a smarter suit. At the time when we need the Prime Minister to be focusing on securing the country’s economic recovery, he has been forced to give a speech on Europe that risks creating confusion, deterring investors and undermining jobs and growth in this country.

 Cameron claims to want to be in the EU, but for many in the Conservative Party, getting the Prime Minister to commit now to an in/out referendum is not about reform of Europe, but about an exit strategy.

The European Union is vital for the future of the North East. Our local economy is powered by our great manufacturers. It’s their exports that have kept us going, despite the damaging economic policies of this Tory-led government ,and it’s their exports that are the key to the future success of this region. We are the only region in the country that has a net surplus trade balance. Over half of this region’s exports are to the EU.  As a region we’ve benefitted from inward investment from multinationals such as Nissan keen to use us as a gateway to the European Union.  Businesses don’t want to see uncertainty on this matter because that’s bad for their businesses and bad for jobs.  

This isn’t just about big companies. In Hartlepool alone it's estimated that nearly 5,000 jobs are dependent on trade with the EU.

Labour’s approach is that to get the best deal for Britain we need to be round the table with our allies in Europe, not shouting from the sidelines with one foot already out of the door and the car engine running. Don’t think for one moment that we could influence the shape of the world’s largest trading area by withdrawing and shouting from the outside.  Cameron’s approach is just naive diplomacy which simply won’t succeed in delivering for Britain.

The Prime Minister’s speech wasn’t about leading a debate on the future of shape of Europe. It was a gamble made for internal party reasons and its a gamble that could cost the North East economy dear.

Iain Wright MP is the Member of Parliament for Hartlepool and Labour’s Shadow Business Minister