This week in Parliament, all eyes turned to Brussels as the date for the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union was set for June 23.
As I set out in my latest blog, there are many reasons that I have decided to spend the next four months campaigning to stay in the EU. But chief among them is one simple argument: I believe that is in the best interest of the people of Rochdale.
Almost half of the UK’s exports go to the EU each year, among them are many fantastic products that are manufactured here in Rochdale. It is vital that local firms continue to benefit from our free and open trade within other EU nations.
While an independent UK could renegotiate trade deals with the EU, this will not happen overnight and jobs will be put at risk in the meantime. Can “out” campaigners guarantee that Rochdale firms will survive while we wait for them to reopen a door they so enthusiastically slammed shut?
But this is not just an economic argument. Those in the “out” camp fail to realise that we are inextricably linked with Europe geographically, culturally and historically.
The EU is far from perfect and we need to see some fundamental changes.
In my view, the unlimited immigration that comes with the free movement of people has had a disproportionately detrimental effect on working class communities like Rochdale.
I would also like to see us shift to a more contributory welfare system so that no one (UK nationals included) can claim large amounts of benefits without first paying into the system.
I think the argument for these changes is one that can be won. But you cannot triumph in a debate if you’re not invited to the meeting in the first place.
Let’s fight to stay in the EU, and then fight to make it better.