Guest post by Alan Johnson MP, leader of Labour In for Britain
I’ve been visiting the North East for the best part of four decades first as a Trade Union official, then as a visiting Member of Parliament and Government Minister. Over those years I’ve seen the region transform itself whilst always retaining its admirable outward look on the world. The North East is rightly proud of its heritage; shipyards that built some of the greatest vessels on the waters, steel that was used to construct some of the world’s most famous landmarks, exporting coal that powered industrial revolutions. As the economy has changed so has the region’s strengths, you’re now home to the most productive car plant in the world, to leading software development companies and you’ve brought back train building to the area that first gave the world the steam locomotive.
So the North East has always looked across the waters for opportunities. It hasn’t been afraid to meet the challenges of a changing world.
Yesterday I visited Gestamp in Newton Aycliffe. The company sums up neatly the long-standing interconnection between the North East and Europe over many decades. Born in County Durham as Tallent it first made fancy goods before adapting to expanding opportunities in paraffin heaters and washing machines. As the company grew it became part of a German industrial group and moved into automotive engineering. It’s now part of a global Spanish-owned company, employing over 1,300 locally and investing in new technology.
There is no doubt in my mind that continued membership of the European Union is the best way of helping companies like Gestamp succeed and to improve this region’s economic prosperity. Last year companies in the North East exported goods worth over £7billion to the EU. Nearly 160,000 jobs here in this region are linked with that trade.
So when we get to the referendum on Britain’s EU membership, the jobs and trade here in the North East is what matters to me. Being in Europe makes us a major player in world trade – part of a market with 500 million consumers which other countries want to do business with.
Large companies from all over the world – not just from inside the EU – choose to build their offices and factories in the UK and recruit staff here because we are a gateway to the European single market. From car manufacturing in Sunderland to train building in County Durham, inward investment has been of major benefit to the North East economy.
Leaving risks investors taking their businesses and jobs elsewhere. Those campaigning for Britain to leave have so far not been able to explain what a Britain out of Europe looks like. Crossing our fingers and hoping is not an approach that offers this region the economic certainty it needs.
Over the coming months, Labour will be campaigning to stay in Europe to protect jobs for working people and stand up for rights in the workplace.
During Labour’s time in government, we made sure that Britain’s EU membership gave British workers’ rights to minimum paid leave, rights for agency workers, paid maternity and paternity leave, equal pay, anti-discrimination laws, and protection for the workforce when companies change ownership.
So that’s why in this campaign, we’ll continue that proud Labour tradition of campaigning for Britain in Europe, because it’s good for North East jobs and good for the men and women in those jobs.