EU Referendum debate: Opinion pieces from Peterborough leaders

We asked Peterborough politicains and community leaders whether they wanted in or out of the EU. Here's what they had to say:

Sunday, 13th March 2016, 3:01 pm
EU: In or Out - it's your call

Shailesh Vara - MP for North West Cambridgeshire

After many years of debate on Britain’s position in the European Union we finally have a referendum on 23rd June. Every person will have an equal vote.

For me, it has not been an easy decision and there has been much agonising along the way. I have decided, on balance, that we are better off in a reformed EU. The Prime Minister’s deal in Brussels is a good one, providing much needed assurances which will ensure that we have the benefits of being in the EU without being burdened by matters which are not in our national interest.

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Stewart Jackson

The deal helps to protect some of the three million British jobs which are linked to our membership of the EU’s single market and we will have restrictions on EU migrants and their ability to claim benefits.

Migrants who have come to Britain to work and who have not found employment within six months will have to leave. For those who do stay, they will not be able to claim full in-work benefits for four years.

The Prime Minister has secured protection for our sovereignty, with the deal ensuring that treaty references to “ever closer union” do not apply to Britain. We will never join the Euro, never join a European army and never be part of the Schengen borderless zone.

Being in a reformed EU will ensure that we are safer, working closely with other European countries at a dangerous time to fight cross border crime and terrorism. As the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon puts it “our first duty is to protect the nation’s security and now is no time to hide under our duvets.”

Shailesh Vara

I accept that even after reform the EU is by no means perfect, but I also believe that it is in Britain’s interest to be in a reformed EU, helping to shape the decisions which affect our jobs, our security and our prosperity.

Richard Howitt - Labour MEP for the East of England

It is economic suicide for Britain to cut ourselves off from our major export market. More than a thousand people work at Thomas Cook in Peterborough, whose chief said it would create ‘uncertainty’ and national newspapers reported as “risked,” if Britain left Europe.

Hundreds more work at DHL distribution in Fletton, another of many British companies who say it’s bad for their business if Britain leaves - and for local jobs.

Richard Howitt

Meanwhile Europe is good for our businesses - attracting £60 million to Peterborough’s enterprise partnership in the next five years.

Local young people are furthering their careers through EU-funded apprenticeships at Peterborough Regional College, and local families struggling with debt are getting help to cope with European support through the city’s credit union.

Peterborough promotes itself as an Environmental City - using European funding to help local businesses manage greenhouse emissions.

The city’s main rail line has been and will be improved by being on the EU Trans-European network for trade.

Darren Fower

Elsewhere, while I’ve helped get EU funds to help ease the pressures of migration, the UKIP leader falsely claimed ethnic minorities in Peterborough won’t integrate - and risks inflaming bad race relations in the city to seek a vote to leave.

The truth is that four-in-five British migrants have come from outside Europe.

And if Britain sent back two million EU migrants living here, we would have to take back two million British people living elsewhere in Europe.

So if you care about local jobs and business, life chances for our young people and families, better transport and trade links, harmony in our local community and a better future for our entire planet... vote to remain in the European Union.

Stewart Jackson - MP for Peterborough who sits on Vote Leave’s Parliamentary Council

There is a reason that pollsters found recently that Peterborough is the second most Eurosceptic area in the UK. It’s not that we don’t like foreigners and we don’t wish to travel to their countries and do business with them. Far from it! Thomas Cook is head-quartered in our city and many local businesses like Caterpillar are big exporters.

Marco Cereste

For the answer to why we’re ambivalent to the European Union and likely to vote to leave on June 23rd, take a walk down Lincoln Road and its surrounding streets.

Uncontrolled immigration has bought very few benefits to our area but also many drawbacks – slum landlords have ruined what were once tidy neighbourhoods and the sheer speed and scale of EU migration since 2004 has put huge strains on the delivery of public services like schools, housing and policing.

So is there a positive case for the European Union?

Perhaps but you’d hardly think so listening to those who support staying in. It’s all about scaremongering and painting vivid pictures of the UK as an impotent supplicant resigned to long term decline within the EU - a shrinking trading bloc which is on the verge of the probable collapse of the Eurozone and a never ending migration crisis. Even the most ardent supporters of the EU wouldn’t pretend that the Prime Minister’s ‘’special’’ renegotiation deal is a success.

Voting to leave will mean we can control our own borders and legal jurisdiction and we’ll return to being a self-governing democracy. We’ll focus on our own spending priorities like the NHS and scientific research and we’ll forge new business opportunities and prosperous trade deals across the globe as the world’s fifth biggest economy.

The European Union is past its sell by date. Let’s look outwards across the world and replace that broken relationship with a new partnership deal based on free trade and friendly competition with our European friends.

Toby Wood - Peterborough’s inaugural poet laureate

To stay EU or not to stay EU – that is the question. Most of us try to look at issues simply but I fear that reasoned argument is currently being swamped by dogma. On one side we’ve got the Project Fear mob, on the other the Project UKIP brigade. Let’s not forget that the only reason we’ve got this referendum is because of David Cameron’s fear that voters would switch to UKIP at the last general election.

Even our government, whose judgement we’re all suppose to trust, is divided. Many Tories say that we should trust George Osborne’s fiscal judgement on the 2016 Budget yet not trust his pro-EU stance.

I reckon that much of Peterborough is EU-sceptical without really knowing why. Our dear old city is between St Peter’s rock and a hard place. If we have a thriving local economy then that’s precisely why workers from other countries move here. And let’s not blame workers for seeking work.

Will withdrawing from the EU mend the potholes in Dogsthorpe Road, encourage more affordable housing in the city, encourage large stores back into Bridge Street or coax more people into teaching to assist those already stressed and over-stretched? These are just a few of the things that I care about.

So in March, with three months still to go, I remain unconvinced about leaving. I want to hear many more facts, figures and projections as to what life may be like out of the EU. I don’t want to hear the same old stuff about sovereignty and controlling borders. Today I shall vote to remain but reserve the right to change my mind! Who knows – I might not vote at all. By 23rd June I may be so enthralled by England’s efforts at Euro 2016 I might just forget to vote!

Patrick O’Flynn - UKIP MEP for the East of England

Life outside the EU will be far better for Peterborough. The people of this city will be more free, more prosperous and far more in control of their destiny.

Only outside the EU can we take back control of our borders and design the Australian-style, points-based immigration system that so many people in Peterborough crave. That way we can still admit the highly-skilled people who can benefit our society and economy, but not limitless numbers of unskilled people whose presence serves to add to strains on our creaking infrastructure and public services.

The population of Peterborough has been soaring in recent years and is on course to hit 200,000 within the next decade. Between 2002 and 2014 the population increased from 159,000 to 186,000. The infrastructure of the city is unable to cope.

Social housing waiting lists have soared. And now residents are facing the scourge of endless over-development as planners try and run to catch up.

Peterborough re-elected my old mate Stewart Jackson as its MP last year. Stewart has a mandate to represent the people of Peterborough when he votes in the House of Commons. And if you don’t like the way he votes, you can choose to remove him at the next election in 2020.

But on huge swathes of government, Stewart simply has no say. The laws that govern you are made in Brussels. Try sacking the 28 unelected European Commissioners who wield so much power over us today. You can’t.

I walk through the centre of this city every week to get to my office in the middle of town. But long-time residents tell me they feel the sense of community they once so valued is in danger of being lost and uncontrolled immigration is the main factor that has weakened it. It is time to finally take control of our destiny. And we can only do that outside the EU.

Councillor Darren Fower - Liberal Democrat member on Peterborough City Council

Yes, Peterborough is better off being part of the EU.

Lest we forget that the council is controlled by the Conservatives, the city MP is a Conservative and the country is run by the Conservatives! You can’t possibly expect right wingers to accept responsibility for their failures, can you? Better to hide behind and blame the leviathan that is the EU!

A recent YouGov poll declared Peterborough as the second most Eurosceptic place in the country. What tosh, especially after they asked just 200 people or so.

In the 2014 EU election in Peterborough, five out of the 10 political parties were anti-Europe and received 17,545 votes in total. That is just 38 per cent of the total votes cast!

The Tories at the Town Hall take pride in failing to report on the millions of pounds our city receives from EU organisations or grants.

Even now they won’t admit the truth. Recently, the council admitted that despite their tough financial situation, it had been helped by “expansion” which is their Tory way of referring to migration, i.e. more people working and paying Council Tax.

Prior research has shown that some 9,073 jobs in Peterborough are reliant on our involvement with the EU and by now I would expect this to have increased dramatically.

Being part of the EU has helped us strengthen our local economy, improve the trade options for local companies, while people have benefited from cheaper flights, lower mobile roaming charges and the opportunity to live, work and retire across the continent.

Of course no-one is saying the EU is perfect. Just like all institutions it is in constant need of reform.

Well that’s my opinion, but I am of course biased, as I’m the product of European migrants! You see, members of my family were huguenots. They came over, worked, paid taxes and even offered some fresh DNA to the indigenous population!

Marco Cereste - Businessman and former leader of Peterborough City Council

It’s an extremely difficult question to answer. As a businessman instinctively what I do not want to see is borders raised making it more difficult to trade. Nearly 50 per cent of everything we produce is sold in Europe.

At the moment I know if I want to export to the European market there’s bureaucracy. But there’s bureaucracy when I went to sell in the UK and some of that’s just as bad as anywhere else. There’s bureaucracy everywhere, but I know that in the end I have a right as a British businessman to sell anywhere within the other 27 European countries and they can’t stop me.

And not only can they not stop me, they can’t add tariffs to make it more difficult to trade.

The only thing that we can say for sure is that if we stay in we will know what will happen. I think the Prime Minister negotiated a pretty good deal.

There are lots and lots of jobs in our city that are not being filled and could possibly be filled by people not born in this country. Around 30 per cent of people working in our NHS are of foreign origin. It’s a really difficult issue because nobody wants to feel our services are being put under stress and they are absolutely right.

But when the time comes to make a decision I think I will go for what we can actually understand. I do not want to make a decision that could be extremely risky for our future and the future of our children. But I’m open to being convinced and having a debate.

The utopia is we can trade and not have the other restrictions. I can understand why the outers want to leave but I’m not sure we can actively achieve that.

Patrick OFlynn
Stewart Jackson
Shailesh Vara
Richard Howitt
Darren Fower
Marco Cereste
Patrick OFlynn