There is an ‘umbilical cord’ tying Leeds and Yorkshire’s future prosperity with the European Union, and cutting it would harm the region’s prospects for better transport and growth, the Prime Minister told an audience of YEP readers last night.
David Cameron was speaking during a question and answer session at our Whitehall Road headquarters in Leeds city centre, as he hit the city as part of the ‘Remain’ campaign trail a fortnight ahead of the EU Referendum.
He also warned that the Government’s high speed rail projects designed to connect the cities of the North of England may not be completed if Britain leaves the EU.
Delivering the multi-billion pound HS2 and HS3 schemes is at the forefront of the Conservative party’s vision to create a Northern Powerhouse.
However a vote to abandon the EU on June 23 could signal the end of proposed levels of investment in rail, Mr Cameron suggested, as grappling with a £40m blackhole in their finances and public spending commitments would have to be managed within a smaller economy.
Voting to stay in the European Union, on the other hand, would signal to the world that “Britain is back” and unleash the country’s potential. he stressed.
The Prime Minister said: “If we stay in [the EU] all our plans are fully intact and that includes HS2, and what we have said about HS3, and the overall rail investment programme.
“If we come out of course I’m sure we will want to try and maintain these important investments, but when you hear nine out of ten economists, the Bank of England, the Treasury, the IMF and now the National Institute [of Economic and Social Research], all saying our economy will be smaller and will generate less tax revenue, obviously that does threaten potentially some public spending programmes.”
Mr Cameron made a plea to the region’s voters to think “logically” about the consequences of lower tax revenues - which he believes will be the likely economic scenario if Britain votes to leave the EU as commercial services would abandon the UK.
He said: “That sector which generates a lot of tax revenue that we then spend on schools, hospitals, roads and HS2 - you can see how that sector would suffer.”
David Cameron claimed settling the question of EU membership, following on from the referendum on Scottish independence, would give the UK a new sense of confidence about its place in the world.
The Prime Minister also defended Labour’s Remain campaign which has faced criticism from within its own ranks.
The question of EU membership is the third referendum called by David Cameron since he entered Downing Street in 2010 following those on voting reform and Scottish independence.
The Prime Minister said: “I think if we can decide that we are a United Kingdom inside a reformed European Union then I think the opportunities for this country are massive because we’ve got so much going for us.”
He continued: “I’m full of confidence that in this complicated globalised world Britain can be a big success story. We’ve dug ourselves out of the problems we were in after the great recession, we are growing, we are creating jobs and I think the opportunities are there.
“And I think settling this issue will sort of unleash a sense of Britain is back, Britain knows what it’s doing, where it’s going and will be the country that everyone wants to partner with.
“So I’m hugely optimistic but we’ve got to settle this issue first.”
Regionally and nationally Mr Cameron will need Labour votes to secure a Remain victory but Jeremy Corbyn has faced criticism from his own party’s supporters for his approach to the campaign.
But Mr Cameron, who has appeared alongside Sadiq Khan and Harriet Harman at campaign events, maintained Labour was pulling its weight..
He said: “I think the Labour In campaign has been very strong. Jeremy Corbyn’s made speeches, Alan Johnson has been very strong, Yvette Cooper, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has got a big mandate behind him.
“The extraordinary thing about our campaign is that in Stronger In you’ve got Greens, Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Conservative government, the TUC, universities, very strong voices in business, it is a very very strong campaign.”
The Prime Minister argued the media was in danger of “getting too over-excited” about Conservative in-fighting over Europe and that other Remain voices should not be “crowded out”.
The Prime Minister spend 40 minutes answering readers’ EU referendum questions at a special event in Leeds yesterday and he insisted there were still votes to be won with less than two weeks to go.
Mr Cameron said: “In a general election when people say they are undecided they often mean ‘I don’t want to be rude but I’m not voting for you.
“On this occasion I think people are genuinely undecided. I think there are many people who emotionally have got things about Europe that are annoying them - which i think includes all of us in many ways - but they can see the strength of the arguments about our economy, opportunity and the rest of it.
“I think they are wrestling with those things and I hope they come down on the side of staying in because it will be better for our economy and we can still fight for reform and change from within.”