Why Our EU Membership Makes Tunbridge Wells Stronger
By Dr Alan Bullion
Why should you vote Remain on June 23 in the referendum on Britain's future in the European Union? Because the South Eastbenefits through EU funding, which supports regional development, provides investment in local firms, creates job opportunities, improves prospects for young people through apprenticeships and higher education, and supports agriculture. More 500,000 jobs across the South East depend on exports to the EU. Almost half (47%) of goods exported from the South East last year were exported to the EU, with a value of £19 billion.
Britain leaving the EU could cost the South East regional economy £8.8 billion over the next two years, as investors take fright. We have already seen the pound lose ground as uncertainty mounts ahead of the referendum date. According to the Treasury, a vote for Brexit could cause unemployment in the South East to rise by around 74,000 while youth unemployment could increase by 9,000. The impact of the shock from leaving the EU could also mean house prices are on average £42,000 lower by 2018 in the South East than if the UK remained in the EU.
Scientific and technical funding also benefits from our EU membership. For example, the University of Kent is part of a £6.3 million project led by the Netherlands to develop new drugs to combat deadly parasites affecting communities in Africa and Latin America. Almost £4.8 million of that funding comes from the EU.
Cheaper flights and visa free travel also make it easier for both UK and other EU citizens to travel to other EU countries. In 2014, EU tourists made 3.2 million visits to the South East, contributing over £1 billion to the local economy, and supporting the 405,000 people working in the tourism industry in the South East, including local attractions such as the Pantiles.
Agriculture employs nearly 46,000 people in the South East, particularly in Kent, proudly known as 'the Garden of England'. Our farmers have benefitted from nearly £1.7 billion in Common Agricultural Policy payments between 2007 and 2013. Kentish Ale and Kentish Strong Ale have been produced by a brewery in Kent since 1698. Thanks to the product's status as an EU protected food name, Kentish Ale will only ever be brewed in the county of Kent. Whitstable Oysters, another of Kent's iconic products, receives similar protected name status under EU law.
Over 9,000 members of NHS hospital and community health staff in the South East are from other EU countries. This includes nearly 1,400 doctors and nearly 3,700 nurses and midwives. If the UK left the EU, it would become harder for skilled workers such as doctors and nurses to practice in the UK.
Most importantly for me, our membership of the EU is vital to securing continued peace and prosperity, and avoiding another deadly world war. We've all enjoyed the benefits of our international links built over recent decades. I don't want to be the one explaining to the next generation that we chose disengagement over engagement, isolation over connection in 2016.