The Somerset County Gazette has published a debate and poll on Brexit. See www.somersetcountygazette.co.uk/news/17971943.poll-great-brexit-debate-vote-somersets-eu-referendum, and register your vote.
They asked us to put our side of the argument. What follows is what our chairman, Paul Adams, wrote. Please read, consider, and share with your family, friends and colleagues.
Why we should stay in the EU
By Paul Adams, chair, Somerset Loves Europe
What do superfast broadband, an endangered bird and a business centre specialising in low-carbon energy have in common? Answer: all three are Somerset projects which have been boosted by EU funding.
For years we have heard all about the supposed disadvantages of being in the European Union. But rarely do people shout about the benefits. And yet, after more than 40 years of EU membership, they are all around us.
The EU provided £46 million towards superfast broadband to connect rural areas of Somerset. It also stepped in with over £1.5 million to help save the heron-like bittern, which was on the brink of extinction. As a result, the RSPB reported a record 102 males on its reserves last year, nearly half of them on the Somerset Levels. The EU put £870,000 towards Bridgwater’s Somerset Energy Innovation Centre, a business hub for nuclear and renewable power. That investment has helped support over 200 businesses in three years.
These are just three of many EU-backed local initiatives. In 2017 alone, it invested more than £47 million in Somerset. Over £38 million went to 2,613 farms and £7 million supported 27 research projects. Another £10 million supported nine projects to create jobs, while £10 million went towards 83 education, training, sport and other projects for young people.
If we leave the EU, Somerset will lose all this. There is no guarantee the Government will replace that support. As a country we lose even more. From the pet passport scheme to paternity rights, from a ban on mobile roaming charges while holidaying in Europe to government protection on savings if your bank goes bust, there are numerous rights and perks we take for granted, all proposed and voted on – democratically – by the EU.
Why would we want to leave? In fact, in over three years, the Government hasn’t even come up with a workable plan to do just that. And that’s because any deal we agree with the EU can’t match what we have already.
In common with voters elsewhere, Somerset people opted to leave for a variety of reasons. They were worried about immigration. Now it turns out we need foreign workers for hard-to-fill vacancies – including agricultural workers to ensure that fruit and veg doesn’t rot in the county’s fields and care workers for Somerset’s elderly population.
The Government has announced funding for improvements to Musgrove Park Hospital, but where will we find the nurses to staff it? Around a fifth are from the EU and many are going home, unable to see a future here after Brexit. Very few more are applying to come.
Voters were also worried that the EU was undemocratic. But we all have the chance to elect MEPs who debate and vote on policies that will affect us. The Council of Ministers is composed of ministers of elected governments and the Commissioners are appointed by governments too. It simply isn’t true that the EU forces laws on us against our will.
Compelled to join a European army? Not so – the UK has a veto. Turkey becoming a member of the club? Not a chance. It’s not even close to fulfilling the very many criteria it needs to meet in order to join.
These and copious other myths about the EU have been systematically debunked over the excruciating three and a half years since the referendum. The only argument left for leaving is that it’s the “will of the people” – and even that is far from clear anymore.
Every week on our street stalls around Somerset we meet people who regret voting leave. Democracy is not a one-off cross in a box to damage our economy and smash our rights to smithereens; democracy is having the right to revisit decisions when they no longer seem like such a good idea.
We all know a lot more now than we did in 2016. We know the dangers for the people of Somerset: a shortage of carers and nurses for our loved ones, and shortages of lifesaving medicines like insulin for people with diabetes and radioisotopes used in cancer therapy and diagnosis – almost all of these are imported from the EU. A no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for West Country beef and lamb, which enjoys special quality status conferred by the EU. Lamb exports would be subject to a 48% tariff, beef 84%, according to the NFU.
Our local economy will take a hit – possibly for decades. It won’t be possible to “get Brexit done” just by leaving the EU. Somerset entrepreneurs have told us they fear loss of orders, which translates to lost jobs. They fear loss of grant help from the EU, crucial when banks won’t lend to small businesses that want to expand.
As a county and as a country we can only be diminished by Brexit. Instead we need to change the way we think about Europe – when you visit other EU countries, you notice how everywhere you go their national flag flutters proudly next to its blue EU counterpart studded with yellow stars. We need to think of the UK as a great nation within a great alliance of nations, where the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts.