Everyone has one. An opinion on the European Union that is, whether they will admit to it or not. Like or loathe, love or hate it is anyone entirely neutral to it? Much is at stake, so how will staying in the EU or leaving it affect our lives here in the Mendips and the surrounding areas?
The eventful and turbulent campaigning has been fascinating, but at times deeply troubling to watch. The national debate was paused by the tragic death of Jo Cox, and the recall to Parliament. In the wider national campaign advocates have switched sides, accusations of mendacity and manipulation have been levelled to all factions. Claims and counter-claims have been made as the two sides debate the statistics, and the likely future of the United Kingdom inside and outside the European Union. Experts have been wheeled out, then dismissed. Public figures and celebrities have come out as Brexit or Bremain.
Two things seem certain. Passions are running sky-high and whichever way the voting goes tomorrow when the polling stations open, on Friday morning there will be many deeply disappointed people when they awake to discover that their side lost.
Secondly, and more positively, there seems to be greater engagement in this referendum than the recent general elections. Social media has played a part in this as families, colleagues, and friends have been able to share, comment, like and dislike online. Will this lead to greater turnout at the polls?
There are so many questions, and Live Mendips decided to put a few to our local Members of Parliament to see how they think the area might be affected by a vote to stay in or leave the EU. James Heappey represents Wells, Jacob Rees Mogg is MP for North East Somerset, and John Penrose is the MP for Weston-super-Mare and surrounding villages. Liam Fox is elected member for North Somerset including Wrington Vale, Winford and Yatton.
This area’s representatives, although all Conservative, are broadly balanced with regard to the EU vote, as two of the MPs are in favour of Leave and two are for Remain. This vote is not split along traditional party lines. Fox and Rees-Mogg are voting to leave the EU. Heappey and Penrose will vote remain. What have they got to say about the reasons behind their decision? And what do they urge people in their constituencies to consider on the eve of the vote?
Q: What has influenced your decision; why are you voting that way?
PENROSE: The new EU deal negotiated by David Cameron at the start of the Referendum campaign reforms our relationship with the rest of the EU, so we’re insulated no matter what happens to other parts of it which we aren’t involved with (like the Euro area, or the Schengen free travel zone). We can let [the rest of EU] get on with it, without stress, because they can’t drag us along for the ride.
REES-MOGG: It is because I believe in democracy and that voters ought to be able to remove a government they do not like. The European Commission which proposes all new EU laws is unelected yet governs us. This is a worry.
Q. At this stage of the campaign what do you urge voters to think about?
HEAPPEY: The economy, the economy, the economy.
PENROSE: Don’t let your heart rule completely over your head. This is a decision we, our children and grandchildren will have to live with forever, so it needs to work for them as well as for us today.
REES-MOGG: How successful the UK can be if we take back control and make our own decisions on farming, trade, immigration and all the other policy areas centred to Brussels.
Q. What do you think will be the immediate aftermath of a vote to leave EU?
HEAPPEY: A huge correction in the stock exchange and currency markets. We’re seeing the markets rally this week as they become increasingly sure of a Remain vote. As positive as Monday’s trading was, it stands to reason that the opposite would be true if we voted to leave.
PENROSE: A long period of uncertainty as we try to negotiate new terms, and a lot more ‘I told you so’ from each side if the terms are better or worse than they initially predicted.
REES-MOGG: A boost to national morale, the British will have shown they cannot be scared by doom-mongers. There will also be an economic boost as we free ourselves from Brussels bureaucracy.
Q: How will a vote for the UK to leave the EU affect people in your constituency in the long term?
HEAPPEY: In the very long term, I think we’ll be fine whichever way we go but we must be realistic about what it means to inflict on ourselves a recession. For those just starting out in life, trying to start their career, save for a mortgage or grow their own business; the impact of that economic uncertainty even if only for five years or so will be profound. I don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze.
The modern world is global and interconnected, influence comes from being a part of things not isolated on the outside. We are stronger and better off if we vote to remain but that doesn’t make us all europhiles. The EU still needs a great deal of reform, the last few months here and the coming General Election campaigns in France and Germany will leave Brussels in doubt about that.
PENROSE: Staying in the EU single market means jobs when local firms export to Europe and, while I’m sure there’d still be trade if we left, it wouldn’t be as easy, or as much. So leaving would cost jobs, and make Weston’s economic rebirth harder.
REES-MOGG: It will restore their democratic rights through their own Parliament and ensure greater prosperity as we are freed from the failed EU economic project that has ruined many European economies especially in the South [of Europe].
What do you think?
by Sophia Beyer
Dr Liam Fox’s office did not respond with answers to the questions. In the interests of balance readers are urged to visit his website for more information on his opinions.
For more information on your MP’s view visit James Heappey’s site at www.jamesheappey.org.uk, John Penrose’s at www.johnpenrose.org, and Jacob Rees-Mogg at www.jacobreesmogg.com