Whilst the Tories squabble over EU membership and Labour shy away from the subject completely, Lib Dems are united in saying that across Europe we are "better together". We support an in/out referendum when the time is right and we campaign passionately for the UK to remain a member of the EU. But why are we the unambiguous "party of in"? Because to undermine EU membership, would be to threaten jobs across the UK and to risk our security in an uncertain world.
Over the next seven years, EU funding promises to pump billions of pounds of investment into our economy and create thousands of jobs across all regions of the UK. There will be long-term investment into our energy and transport infrastructure, which previous Labour and Conservative governments have overlooked. Potential projects include cross-border electricity interconnectors between Kent and Belgium and Ireland and Wales, which will help secure our electricity supply for years to come and promote the creation of a Europe-wide renewable energy grid.
Moreover, billions of pounds will be invested into research funding for our universities and companies which will boost efforts to develop our high tech industries and fight killer diseases. Every 80p of EU research spending generates an estimated £11 worth of industry added-value, while the current programme is thought to have boosted UK industrial output by over £3billion a year. This is because EU funding allows British universities to coordinate research with groups of universities and companies across Europe, enabling them to pool expertise and drive forward innovation in some of our most cutting-edge sectors.
Not only does the EU allow for the international collaboration that is so crucial to our economic success, but it also gives us unfettered access and influence over our largest export market. A recent Yougov poll found that 6% of businesses would close if we left the EU. If that becomes a reality, it would mean over 60,000 businesses folding with around 1.5million subsequent job losses across the UK. It is, therefore, unsurprising that a host of business organisations and prominent figures have come out in support of EU membership in recent weeks - CBI, the EEF manufacturers' organisation, CityUK and Nissan to name but a few.
Of course, Liberal Democrats do not think the EU is perfect. However, rather than wasting countless hours debating abstract EU constitutional intricacies on dates and treaties like the Tories, we prefer action. Our MEPs in the European Parliament have helped to deliver a £30billion cut to the EU budget, the first ever cut in its history. We understand the importance of achieving a more efficient, accountable and competitive EU. More specifically, we must make it easier for British companies to export to the EU and beyond, reducing unnecessary red tape for small businesses.
Europe needs reform, but European nations need each other to achieve this. Only the Liberal Democrats, as the "party of in", are brave enough to make this argument and put British jobs and investment first.
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