Europe – The most important vote in Liverpool this year

Union Flag        European_flag_wavy

Two Flags – One Country – One Future

Some people might be surprised by this headline. “Surely”, they might say, “you’ve just been a candidate in the Mayoral Election. Wasn’t that important after all?” Of course the recent local elections were important and particularly the one for Mayor but they were nowhere near as important for the future of Liverpool as the vote that is still to come on June 23 when we look at whether or not we stay in Europe.

I have been appalled at the way both the Leave and Remain sides have been taking forward this debate. They present everything in black and white and with extreme views. Nothing is that simple. I do not believe that the UK will fall off a cliff edge if we leave the EU. I don’t even think we will see much difference for a couple of years. I am, however, convinced that over the years the UK will decline and become a backwater whilst the major decisions about its climate; about its economy; about its legal and other systems are made outside its borders in a way that it will be unable to influence.

Before we go into detailed arguments let’s just apply a little bit of common sense to look at what will happen if we leave the EU. Let’s assume we are members of a club. Let’s says it’s a golf club. You pay your membership fee and you get a range of services for that fee. In most golf clubs you can continue to play if you are not a member but members take priority for using the fairways; set the local rules by which you play and you will have to pay more for the privilege than if you were not a member. You go in on ‘their’ terms. That’s true of any club, grouping or organisation. If you are in you benefit if you are out you pay more and get less.

Of course if we leave the EU we will end up with treaties on trade and other matters given time but they will not be as good as we get inside the EU. Put bluntly we are much smaller; much less worth the effort; much less of a market. As the President of the USA has made clear we will be back of the queue when it comes to trade and other negotiations.

Today we have heard about security. I didn’t believe either side’s arguments were cohesive or persuasive. The Boche will never again invade plucky Belgium. We won’t be hanging out our washing on the Siegfried Line. Roses may continue to blossom in Picardy but not because there has been a war. The Countries of Europe are now too linked in too many ways for that to ever happen again. 2 million Brits live in Spain. Hundreds of thousands of young French people live in the UK. Everywhere there are sizable numbers of people who originated somewhere else and who see a common European identity and heritage.

If security is a talking point in the referendum it should be about external security and not the security of weapons. That surely is a matter for NATO. The security the EU can provide is through united trade and cultural missions. In working in Countries with problems of poverty, sanitation poor education; corruption, poor crop yields, declining water and other resources. Create stability through prosperity in those countries and we can indeed minimise if not eliminate

I think these things for the whole country but I think it more for our City of Liverpool because of what we do and where we are.

For me there are two abiding reasons why people in the Liverpool City Region should vote YES on 23rd June.

Firstly we are a merchant city. That’s why we were founded and that’s to a very large extent why we still exist. The Port of Liverpool is currently having a £300,000,000 expansion so that it can service 95% of the ships in the World. That expansion will serve not just increased trade with the UK and the World but has been designed to carry increased trade between the EU and the rest of the World. Cargo can be offloaded here and speedily transported though the Channel Tunnel across Europe. It can do this cheaply, swiftly and efficiently. It will not do it though if we are outside the EU. Liverpool will not be an obvious route to Europe because however minimal the trade tariffs and however minimal the bureaucracy there will be tariffs and there will be paperwork.

In the Country as a whole we have maintained our position as a world trade power because we are in Europe. Companies from other Countries use English; have similar customs and practices to us and see us as a logical entry point into Europe. This is especially true of the car industry which is one of our major manufacturing success stories. But car making is by no means unique. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created in the UK because it provides easy access to European markets. Those jobs will not go immediately but as investment decisions are made they will not be made in favour but in favour of continental Europe.

Secondly, we are a needy city. We still have vast amounts of poverty and that poverty has been addressed more by the EU than by Whitehall which Party or combination of Parties has formed the Westminster Government. Aid and assistance from London comes on the whim and favour of Ministers and they have not looked kindly on the North as a whole and Liverpool in particular for decades. 10 times as much government money is spent on infrastructure in London and the South East. Similar figures for culture, the arts, research, universities etc. etc. The EU on the other hand sets objective criteria for aid and assistance and sticks to them. That’s why we got the Objective One money which has reshaped our City Centre; providing help for our skills base; universities; museums; hotels and transport. We’re still poor but in a much better shape with EU policies than if we had been relying on Whitehall largesse.

The EU needs reforming. All governance throughout the World needs reforming in the light or trading; IT and cultural changes. We can reform it better AND to our advantage by being inside it and not having to do what we are told by it as outsiders.

Liverpool Lib Dems are flinging themselves with passion into this debate. We will be out on the streets; knocking on the doors and rattling the letter boxes because we want our Country to be a World Leader; ecause we are patriots who believe in our Country and its future; because we care for the young people who will otherwise live in a poorer and poorer country.

We have 6 weeks to ensure a Yes vote. We will do everything we can in those weeks to ensure that in Liverpool at least we carry the day convincingly as we did 40 years ago in the first ‘Common Market’ referendum.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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