Cllr Paul Watson speaks to the MJ on the EU referendum

The United Kingdom, as we will hear many times in the coming months, is facing the biggest political decision of our lifetimes, as we decide whether or not to remain a member of the European Union. 

Supporters and opponents of our membership both acknowledge that the EU has a critical role in our national life, and our decision in June will affect our economy and our society in the decades to come. I cannot pretend that the final verdict will make no difference to Sunderland, so I cannot pretend that I don’t have an opinion. It’s my duty, as an elected representative of the people of Sunderland, and as the leader of the council responsible for delivering their services, to speak out. We are elected to serve our democracy, and this will be the biggest single democratic decision we will make as a country.

I will speak out strongly in favour of our continued membership of the EU. In my city of Sunderland, being part of the EU has been a lifeline for manufacturing. It means we can make world class automobiles, and sell them anywhere in Europe, without any barriers or unfair competition. It means we will secure good, well-paying, high-skilled jobs for local people here in the North East. It makes our city and our region a destination for investment, which boosts productivity and wages. Why would we leave all that behind? It is very unlikely the German, Italian, French, and other manufacturers will want us to be treated just the same. We know what happens when manufacturing declines. We’ve felt first hand the pain from the 1980s. We can’t let that happen again. In addition we’ll also get a 10 per cent tax put on everything we try to sell. That means lost jobs, lost wages andlost opportunities.

The EU has also provided valuable support for areas hard hit by those economic changes of the last thirty years. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership has been granted almost £400 million by EU investment funds from 2014 to 2020. The funds support local infrastructure, local education and employment training, and investment in new low-carbon technologies, which could open the door to a new generation of high-paid jobs for our constituents. This is real money, on the table, now, because we are members of the EU. It helps real people and real communities, now, to succeed in a rapidly changing world. If we leave, that money will not be there, and there has been no indication of how we would fill the gap.

So that is the choice we face. I’ve spoken up, because I was elected to fight for the people of Sunderland, and that’s what I’ll do. The EU doesn’t have all the answers, and it isn’t perfect, but it makes a difference. It helps us provide jobs and investment, and that’s what we need for a brighter future.

Read the MJ article here