SHOULD we stay or should we go? With three days of soul-searching left until the EU referendum, Lancashire is balanced on a knife edge.
Latest polls show the county’s voters are split down the middle on whether to stay or go. One leading academic claims things are so close in Lancashire that county is set to be Britain’s “bellweather” region, indicating how the rest of the country will vote.
Remain campaigners say 435,000 jobs in the North West depend on trade with the European Union, while supporters of Leave claim it is time to take back control of our own affairs.
Today we look at the arguments from both sides.
RIBBLE Valley councillor Ken Hind, former MP for West Lancashire, wants to say cheers to a Remain vote.
He has been out on the campaign trail and is pictured enjoying an “In” pint in a Waddington pub where two Bowland Brewery beers were on offer in a fun poll, with “Vote In” and “Vote Out” ales on sale at the bar.
He believes that Britain is better in and said: “In the North West 435,000 jobs depend directly or indirectly on trade with the EU.”
Not only that, he says £229m of EU structural and investment funding payments will amount to £182 per county resident between 2014 and 2020 – the kind of regional funding which would not be guaranteed if we left the EU.
The Ribble Valley councillor says if jobs are lost, Britain will just end up with a bigger state benefits bill and less tax will be paid, so wiping out any Brexit bonus.
Coun Hind points out that the rural sector has received “substantial funding” from Europe. With an armoury of facts and figures, Ken has been fighting his corner and has listed some 72 projects which benefited from the £72.5m allocated to the county in structural and investment funding between 2007 and 2013 and says ”that’s only some of them – and that excludes the centre of Blackburn and the M65.”
MAJOR local employer BAE Systems has made only one official comment on the referendum. It is: “As a company we believe the UK should remain a leading member of the European Union. Remaining within a reformed European Union provides greater stability and certainty for UK business.”
Local businesses which supply BAE will also feel the effect if orders drop with thousands of people working indirectly for aerospace industries in the region.
LANCASHIRE’S universities fear what an exit vote might mean for their students and research.
Professor Mike Thomas, vice-chancellor at UCLan, where 686 EU students from outside Britain study as well as 2,800 international non-EU students, says a “Stay” vote is essential to enable Britain to remain competitive in the “global knowledge economy” and to collaborate with partners across the EU and to carry out cutting edge research.
UCLan successfully secured and claimed more than £10m from the last European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding round.
Professor Thomas said: “Alongside over 100 other university leaders I am a wholehearted supporter of the ‘In’ campaign with regards to EU membership. In my view, and in the collective view of the vast majority of universities, EU membership is essential if we are to compete in the future global knowledge economy.
“For instance, EU students spend £2.27bn in the UK, creating 19,000. jobs. In short, what’s good for universities is good for business.”
FOR Tony Attard, the chairman of Marketing Lancashire and owner of textiles company Panaz, there is only one way forward.
Mr Attard is passionately pro-Europe. Citing the fact that 52 per cent of North West goods are sold in Europe, he believes exit would be damaging for the county and the country.
Calling for a “duty of care” to ensure information given to the electorate is accurate, he says in the debate about net costs of EU membership nothing has been mentioned about the revenue brought into Britain by that membership.
As for what he calls “myths of red tape,” he argues the current trading and legal arrangements allow trading to proceed within Europe without obstacles and give access to a market for higher tech goods and some 500 million potential customers.
“It’s much harder to sell to China and India. Europe’s economy is very different,” he says. He warns markets are not as developed outside Europe for some higher tech products, while EU countries are the biggest inward investors in the UK.
Financially he predicts huge pressures on the UK economy if Leave wins. “I would expect interest rates to go up because of pressure on the pound. One suggestion is the pound will go down by 20 per cent.”
Safety and combating terrorism is another issue he is passionate about, noting: “All of our NATO allies want us to stay in Europe and there’s a reason for that – we have an influence. If we move away from that influence we wouldn’t be privy to things that are discovered.”
He continued: “Britain’s multiculturalism is one of its strengths. Rather than taking from the NHS they (immigrants) are adding to taxes which are actually funding the NHS and pensions.”
PETER Rabbitts, retired former ACAS conciliation service worker from Ribchester, takes a different line to many of the business leaders.
“Being part of the E.U. is, for me, a moral/emotional issue,” he said.
“Both sides will bandy about figures showing how better or worse off we’ll be if we leave or remain.
“Personally, I believe that Europe has been and will continue to be a safer, healthier, more prosperous continent by virtue of economic and political cohesion.
“This is what the post-war European project has been all about - to subjugate nationalist ambitions to the greater good of Europe. And it’s worked - the UK didn’t spend years trying to join the club for nothing“
ANDY Jones feels so strongly about the referendum vote, he’s placed a “Vote Leave” message in the window of Jones & Co on Liverpool Road, Penwortham.
The local surveyor said: “I’m going on a question of sovereignty. My particular concern is literally to take back control.
“I think the nature of the European experiment has gone too far.”
Andy took part in the last referendum on membership and recalls: “At the tender age of 18 I voted for the European Common Market.
“I did join Business for Britain etc and I know the business arguments. What is for certain if we do leave, in my opinion, we’ll make the best of it and will succeed.”
He added: “In terms of my local business I don’t think it will affect me in any shape or form other than the general effect on the economy. I don’t think it will affect most small businesses. I think those that will be affected are big corporate businesses and banks.”
For the past 12 months he has been flying the union flag after noticing how other nations fly their flags with pride.
HAIRDRESSER John Kersey knows all about the value of a good cut – and he says it’s time to snip our links with Europe.
The proprietor and managing director of the Kersey Hair Salon in Grimsargh near Preston is formerly northern chairman of the “Business For Britain” movement and chair of the Institute of Directors in Lancashire.
He says going it alone would give a major boost to business and free it of many current restrictions, such as those affecting his salon.
Last year the EU ruled vacuum cleaners should not exceed 250 watts, and from April 1, 2017 this restriction will apply to hairdryers too.
He said: “We are probably running hairdryers at 2,500 to 3,500 watts. It will take us ten minutes longer to dry someone’s hair – it’s about compliance for me – compliance in a nonsense way. It’s just another bit of legislation that is ridiculous and unnecessary.”
Arguing such regulations are “job killers,” stifling small businesses rather than encouraging growth, he argues that just six per cent of UK firms export to the EU. He predicts a majority of those businesses which only trade in or outside the UK will want to leave.
Talking to voters he says he has picked up concerns about immigration, bureaucracy and conscription. In particular the possibility of a European defence force has made people pause for thought.
“Some people think are their grandchildren going to war? They got rid of conscription in 1950. And don’t want it back. They are frightened for their children and their future. I think it is essential that we leave, because I think we should take back control of our destiny.”
LYTHAM businessman David Haythornthwaite is a leading exporter and has put his money where his mouth is, donating a five-figure sum to the Leave campaign.
His Tangerine Group comprises 10 companies which specialise in the manufacture and sales of animal health and nutrition supplements.
Also well known as chairman of AFC Fylde, he has been instrumental in placing Leave billboards around Fylde and says he has donated a “five-figure sum” to the campaign.
He said: “My company trades with over 40 companies throughout the world as far away as New Zealand and Japan and as close as Belgium, Portugal and Germany. Success is not dependant on whether we are members of the EU, in fact in many cases quite the opposite. Our biggest customer is based in Korea and there could be no more different cultures than the Korean and the British.
“We are members of a club in which we have an ever-decreasing say and yet are subjected to more and more onerous rules, all of which stifle and squeeze the life out of businesses. We live in a country of sixty million people and should not only be allowed to make our own laws and control our own borders.”
Ian Appleton, chief executive of Kerax Ltd, which employs 80 workers in Chorley, has written to his workforce stressing he belongs to no political party, but explaining why he believes a Leave vote is vital.
He told them: “To me the issue is very simple indeed. It is about democracy. Do you want to live in a self-governing country that embraces the international opportunities? Whose politicians are accountable to the electorate? Who can be ejected at election time?
“As a businessman and business owner I believe that Kerax can survive and prosper with the UK outside the EU. I believe that the UK can survive and prosper outside the EU.
“To be anti-EU is not to be anti-European.
“It is extremely sloppy and arrogant for the EU to be described as ‘Europe.’ It isn’t.”