Ex-Hartlepool MP and former business secretary Peter Mandelson insisted there’ll be no “magic bullet” by leaving the European Union during a visit to Teesside.
Labour Peer Lord Mandelson – also a former trade and industry secretary and European trade commissioner – spoke to more than 400 delegates and guests at the North East Process Industry Cluster’s annual conference and exhibition at Wynyard Hall on Wednesday, attended by Tees Business.
He told firms from the region’s process and chemical industry that leaving the EU would be like leaving a members’ club – and turning our back on all the benefits that come with it.
“The European Union is a bit like a club, and it has very strong facilities,” said Lord Mandelson during a 20-minute speech.
“It’s got a lot that we want to dip into when it comes to business, investment and trade. It also has rules, like all clubs do, and it also has a membership fee, quite a whopping one I might say.
“But you can only be a member of a club if you agree to pay the membership fee, agree to accept freedom of movement and everything that comes with it. You can’t be half in and half out.
“If we were to vote to leave, it would be a very long, protracted and painful divorce which would take at least two years, and as many years after that to negotiate an alternative arrangement if we can’t at first agree.
“These people who we’ve worked with, within the EU for the last four decades, they’re not naive, they’re not mugs. They’re not going to put a nice sign above the door saying ‘sorry you’re leaving Britain, but please come back and use our facilities any time you like’, otherwise anyone can do that.
“They have already bent over backwards to give us our special status in the European Union, which we have, but that goodwill will evaporate the moment we decide to turn our backs on our partners and walk away.”
Lord Mandelson, who was Hartlepool MP from 1992 to 2004, said remaining part of the single market would be vital to North East businesses.
He added: “This part of the North East has always worked hard, struggled hard, and it has always been a very attractive area for European and international investors.
“Those that are here are responsible for sustaining thousands and thousands of jobs.
“People don’t just come here because we’re British, many come here because we’re part of the European Union and have a market they can freely access to 500 million consumers. That’s the reality.
“As great as we are in Britain, it makes all the difference in the world that people can see clearly that they have that automatic access to that huge European market, tax-free with no tariffs at the borders… one single, regulated system with no complications.
“The reason it’s so absolutely vital that we remain in the EU is this… we will not have the same access to the single market if we’re not members.”
Acknowledging there are “a lot of angry people out there”, Lord Mandelson urged voters not to let one issue – immigration – rule their heads.
“This isn’t a General Election, there is no going back, and that’s why I say to people, if you have any doubts about the economic sense and what it means for the future of the British economy if we were to leave, please don’t take the risk,” he said.
“If we were to use this referendum just to show our anger about other things and end up leaving, we really would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces.
“This isn’t about taking back control, it’s about losing power, the power to sit down on an equal basis.
“If we leave the EU, we’re not going to stop being affected by what happens in Europe, the state of their economy and the decisions they take. The only difference will be is that we won’t be part of that decision-making process, we’ll have to live with it.
“For those who say ‘but what about immigration?’ – as people do, because it’s a completely legitimate issue to debate in this referendum campaign – and say leaving is going to be some sort of magic bullet for dealing with immigration, please think again, because we have more people coming here from outside the EU than from within.
“Do not think there is some magic solution to solve immigration by leaving the EU, all it will do is it will fail trade, jobs and pay packets back at home as a result of lost exports and lost inward investment.”