THE North East has drawn its dividing lines on Europe as the referendum debate begins.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman led regional backing for the Prime Minister’s promise yesterday to hold an in-out referendum on the United Kingdom’s future in the European Union.
The Northumberland Conservative was one of many welcoming the chance to have a potentially decisive say on the UK’s role in Europe.
He told The Journal last night tat he believed the speech was “a defining moment” for the country.
David Cameron said he would seek a new relationship with the EU, with the chance to repatriate some powers. Voters would then, in 2017, be asked to back the UK’s new position .
“I want to be in Europe but not run by Europe,” Mr Opperman said.
“If it turns out we don’t get our role renegotiated, then we review our position then, but the status quo is unacceptable.
“It is for us now to make the case that we are stronger in Europe, but it has to be on our terms.”
He said the EU today is very different from what Britons voted for in 1975 “which was to enter a common market” and argued that Mr Cameron was “right to give the public their say about our relationship” with the EU. However, Judith Kirton-Darling, confederal secretary of the European TUC, said jobs in the region would be put at risk if the UK left the EU.
Ms Kirton-Darling, who lives in Northumberland, said: “David Cameron and Tory Eurosceptics are playing hard and fast with people’s livelihoods in our region. It is deeply reckless. The Prime Minister is also using the promise of reducing working people’s rights to paid leave, safe workplaces, protection for junior doctors and information and consultation for workers, as a means of pacifying his ranks,” she said.
Ms Kirton-Darling was backed by Rob Burlison, one of the potential successors to Labour MEP Stephen Hughes.
He accused Mr Cameron of conceding to the UK Independence Party and right-wing Tories.
“The British economy has been put on hold for a referendum that Mr Cameron hopes will win him the next election,” Mr Burlison said, adding that “with no growth strategy coming from the Government, the North East needs to look elsewhere”.
Such claims though were described by Conservative MEP Martin Callanan as “complete nonsense”.
“The only thing the Prime Minister wants to undermine is the outdated principle that only one-size-fits-all is the way forward for the EU,” he said.
“As parts of the EU continue to integrate then the likelihood of the UK leaving will only increase, unless we can forge a new flexible alliance that allows national governments to ask at which level powers are best exercised.”
However, Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall accused the PM of having the wrong priority.
She said: “Instead of focusing all efforts on getting the British economy back on track, the Conservative Party will now be tied up in its own internal renegotiation discussions that have very little to do with the reality of treaty change among 27 member states.”