The starting whistle has been blown and the referendum is on. On the 23rd June we will all decide whether the UK remains part of the European Union. And I want everyone in Chester to get involved in the debate.
And since I always speak honestly, let me say this about David Cameron: he may have sought reform for the wrong reasons – i.e balancing the internal problems of the Tory Party – but at least he had a go at reform of the EU, which I welcome.
I agree with him on some points. For example, I don’t think people should be allowed to come to the UK and automatically qualify for benefits without paying in to the system first. I support the free movement of labour, but not the free movement of unemployment.
There is no doubt the EU needs reforming. Whether it is the waste of the Common Agricultural Policy, or the craziness of the monthly move between Brussels and Strasbourg, there is plenty that must change.
But I am clear that Chester and the UK need to stay in the EU. For all the current problems, leaving would be catastrophic. If you agree, you can sign up and join my campaign here.
Look up every time the Beluga flies out of Airbus with millions of pounds of skilled manufacturing products on board. That’s 6000 jobs locally directly dependent on our relationship with the EU – no wonder Airbus management are playing a leading role in the campaign to stay in.
But it isn’t just the big Airbus, Vauxhall and Toyota level of businesses. Small and medium businesses have automatic access to trade in EU countries and for them it is important not to worry about trade restrictions. If we leave the EU then we will still have to comply with the EU’s rules, but won’t get a seat at the table to decide those rules.
Over on the Business Park, both Bank of America and Bristol Myers Squibb run their European operations from Chester. So we in Chester are already a European as well as British city.
This isn’t a referendum about immigration, but about jobs and prosperity. And it is also about the good things that come out of Europe but which we never hear about: political cooperation rather than conflict; environmental protection, stronger rights at work, better protection for consumers, and more cooperation to fight international crime and terrorism.
I’ll be campaigning for Chester to vote yes to the EU. Not unconditionally – more reform is needed – but certainly it’s better to stay in than go it alone in an uncertain world.
And on June 23rd it will be over to you, to all of us, to make that massive decision. I hope everyone will take part. If you want to join the campaign to stay in Europe, then sign up here.