To North West faith leaders
European Union Referendum
We are the Labour Members of the European Parliament for the North West of England, elected in 2014. Since our election we have been busy representing our constituents in the European Parliament and meeting with people and organisations from across the region. We produce regular newsletters, email briefings and information about our work and would be more than happy to add you to the circulation if you would find this useful.
In just a few weeks’ time voters will go to the polls and decide the future of Britain’s membership of the European Union. This is a huge moment for our country and the outcome will have wide-reaching implications for our region’s future prosperity and security.
We are firmly of the view that our continued membership of the European Union would be of significant benefit to our region and its people. However, this is not to say everything about the EU is wonderful, this is clearly not the case and there is much that needs improving, not least our ability to act collectively and decisively when faced with major challenges such as the refugee crisis.
As we are sure you know, the North West has benefitted from billions of pounds of EU investment into regeneration, science, culture and tourism and many businesses that rely on access to the single market are headquartered here. Leaving the EU would have huge consequences for our region.
It therefore seems beholden on all organisations, public, private and voluntary to give due consideration to the potential negative consequences for our region if we were to withdraw from the EU. We believe that this task is particularly relevant for our faith leaders in the North West given the strong community leadership role that you fulfil.
We would identify the following as the main negatives to leaving the EU:
1. The threat to peace
The European Union has brought peace, stability and freedom to Europe, a continent that was devastated by war twice in the last century. No country that has joined the EU has ever gone to war against another member of the EU.
This peace was not accidental and it should not be taken for granted. The EU is helping to tackle international threats in a way that the UK couldn’t do if it was acting alone. The EU also helps the police to tackle crime, human trafficking and terrorism; crimes that are increasingly international in nature as the attacks in Paris, Brussels and Lahore have shown.
2. The threat to investment, jobs and growth
The EU single market allows North West businesses to trade and grow. Being a part of the single market is a real boost for business in our region and helps to create growth; this would be at risk if we were to vote to leave. Businesses such as Siemens and Jaguar Land Rover have said that they have workplaces in the UK because we are part of the EU – indeed, up to 160,000 jobs in the region rely on trade with the EU.
The EU invests in major projects across the North West and the region has received billions of pounds of investment. There are lots of projects that rely on and have benefitted from EU funding such as the National Graphene Institute, Greater Manchester’s Metrolink upgrade, Blackpool Tower and waterfront refurbishment, Merseyside’s Developing Digital and Creative Industry Business, the Liverpool City Region Investment Programme and the Cumbria Growth Hub.
As a region we are a net recipient of EU funds and during the current funding round to 2020 the North West will receive over £1.2bn in EU funds. Our universities are also major beneficiaries of EU research funding as are our farmers via payments from the Common Agricultural Policy.
Reduced investment in the region from the EU and from large employers will have a knock-on effect in respect of poverty as unemployment would rise with consequent reduced household budgets. We are already dealing with huge numbers of hungry and homeless reliant on food banks and other forms of charity, and cuts to public services are pressurising mental health services and social workers. The predicted downturn in the economy that would follow a decision to exit the EU would have a massive impact on our poorest communities and risk the livelihoods of others.
3. The threat to our common humanity
Throughout the referendum campaign so far the Brexit side have consistently tried to confuse legal and illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. The point of this is clear – to play on peoples’ fear and drive division within communities here in the UK. A vote for leave would be an endorsement of this type of divisive politics.
The EU does not contribute to overall levels of immigration in the UK because it is a reciprocal right enjoyed by all member states. When you examine the figures in detail you can see that the number of people coming here is almost the same as the number of UK citizens abroad.
What leaving the EU would do, however, is make it harder for us to engage in the international co-operation that is needed to deal with global security issues and the current Syrian migrant crisis. Britain has a long and proud history of fulfilling our international obligations and providing safe haven during even the darkest of hours. Leaving the EU would send a message that we are no longer willing to fulfil that role in full.
4. The threat to workers’ rights and consumers
The EU keeps people safe at work and protects our rights as consumers. EU legislation protects paid leave, maternity rights and equal rights for agency workers. The EU has banned excessive credit and debit card surcharges and expensive customer phone lines.
5. The threat to the environment
The UK's membership of the European Union has driven up environmental standards and given our country a cleaner bill of health. This has given us cleaner beaches, safer drinking water, limits on air pollution, food free from dodgy chemicals, wildlife protection. Leaving would put these hard fought gains at risk and weaken the global fight against climate change.
Whilst these five threats may provide a framework for your thinking we would be keen to know your thoughts on the pros and cons for the region of remaining in or leaving the EU.
To date the conversations we have had suggest that the various religious denominations in the North West – as elsewhere in the UK – are keen to facilitate the debate around our EU membership.
If our withdrawal from the EU were set to make the North West a less safe, less prosperous, dirtier, poorer and a more unequal place to live then surely faith leaders should speak out against such a development?
The approaching EU referendum should not be equated with a general election. Religious institutions do not normally argue in support of a particular party for a General Election, however the referendum on our EU membership is a decision of both a different magnitude and a different nature. We would therefore urge you to initiate a discussion within your community on the pros and cons of our continued EU membership in the context of your mission to the people of the North West of England. Having concluded such a formal debate we would encourage you to then make your views known to both your congregations and the wider North West community.
If we can help facilitate your internal debate on this most important issue please do not hesitate to get in touch, we would be pleased to assist.
Theresa Griffin MEP Afzal Khan MEP Julie Ward MEP
Labour’s MEP for the North West of England