One of the North East’s three MEPs spoke passionately during an EU business breakfast event on Teesside this week.
Jude Kirton-Darling, who was brought up in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, was elected to the European Parliament after succeeding Stephen Hughes two years ago.
Kirton-Darling, who has a history of representing steelworkers during her trade union days, warned guests during the breakfast event, held at Brasserie Hudson Quay, that Teesside will suffer if Britain votes to leave the EU.
And the 39-year-old says she’s angry that some voters are potentially considering a leave vote because of the Tees steel crisis.
She told Tees Business: “I know a lot of people who were involved, both in the recent SSI crisis but also previously when Tata originally mothballed Redcar, and European money helped to make sure the site was mothballed properly.
“I’ve been following Redcar very closely for a long time. It’s been a grim time.
“But the notion that the EU played a part in SSI’s demise is a complete myth, fuelled by the Government. Anna Soubry came up to Redcar and told people her hands were tied by European state aid rules.
“During European Parliamentary questions I was asking the European Commission if state aid would stop action and they said ‘no’.
“Every steel producing country across Europe has stepped in to help their steel industry, whether that’s by reducing energy costs or part nationalising, or buying golden shares in steel companies.
“There are loads of things the UK Government could have done to save SSI. The hardest truth is the Tories didn’t want to, and you can see that in the fact they’ve made every effort to save Port Talbot. Now all of a sudden we don’t hear any longer that state aid rules are a problem.
“They lie to the general public. People are very suspicious of politicians, but I don’t think people expect Government ministers to blatantly lie to their face in that way, and it has done huge damage here.
“All of the responsibility must be laid at the Government’s door. It makes me really angry that people are considering voting to leave the EU because of a decision by Westminster.
“UK steel and all the steel unions have been very clear, saying we have to stay in the EU for the future of British steel.”
Kirton-Darling was born in Tanzania but moved to Teesside when she was young and attended Green Lane and Hall Garth schools followed by Acklam Sixth Form College.
She then studied History at Sheffield University and began her career working for Quakers in Europe on human rights policies before she went into politics as a researcher for the European trade union movement.
Kirton-Darling then started representing steelworkers across Europe before she was elected, by 60 million workers around Europe, confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation in 2011.
She then succeeded Hughes in 2014 after he’d spent 30 years in the post and is now one of three North East MEPs – two of which are Labour and one UKIP.
Kirton-Darling added: “Fundamentally this is about North East jobs – 160,000 jobs across the region.
“We’re a net beneficiary in terms of public and private investment as a result of our EU membership, and that supports our entire regional economy.
“It’s also about rights – rights at work, rights as women, rights as consumers.
“These things are crucial and underpin our situation today, but it’s also about the future and ensuring a fair economy and more jobs for the long-term.”