PM urged to think again over EU referendum plan

David Cameron at the EU in Brussels in December Image copyright Getty Images

The Prime Minister's understandable decision to postpone his big Europe speech, won't delay for long the political heat this debate is generating.

If he is to offer the electorate a future referendum of our membership of the EU, prepare for the mother of all political war of words between the pro and anti EU camps.

It'll come down to issues of sovereignty and economic growth…and whether are we better off in or out of the European Union.

That debate is likely to drill down to the benefits of the EU for us all and local communities: clean water and beaches, food standards, employee rights, cross border movements of labour, open markets.

And don't forget the EU's protective status for the Melton Mowbray pork pie or Stilton cheese!

Take just a short walk through most of our cities and you can see the impact of EU funding.

Deprived areas

In Nottingham, there's regeneration of public spaces, the city's tram network, the new art galleries of the Nottingham Contemporary, or the watching and making of films at the Broadway Cinema.

The clue will be the EU's blue flag displayed as one of the funding partners.

In the East Midlands, the EU's current regional development fund is worth £424m.

As part of its seven-year programme, 17,000 East Midlands businesses will get cash support. Already, 9,300 have benefited. That EU investment is on course to create 11,000 jobs.

Nottingham-based "One East Midlands" helps voluntary, community and business organisations tap into some of that EU funding.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Nottingham Contemporary art gallery exists thanks to EU funding

"The money helps to create new businesses and also some of the more deprived areas of our cities, " said Rachel Quinn, its chief executive.

She also points to the new aerospace centre of excellence based at Nottingham University, which acts as a hub for 250 research and high-end precision engineering businesses.

"But also in the rural areas, the money is investing in the agricultural sector. For example, helping farmers develop their milk output into secondary products such as ice-cream, or cheese. Actually, there's a lot going on."

Yet despite those apparent benefits, the East Midlands remains one of the most Euro sceptic of English regions. That's reflected politically in the five MEPs the region elects to the European Parliament.

Roger Helmer became an East Midlands' Conservative MEP twelve years ago and defected to UKIP last year. In a speech in the European Parliament, he seized the opportunity of the prospects of a referendum on EU membership.

'Ruby anniversary'

"The voters have understood that EU membership is making us poorer and less democratic and less free," he said.

"The people want freedom, and independence, and democracy. They have concluded, rightly, that we shall be Better Off Out."

In contrast, the Liberal Democrat's Bill Newton Dunn quit the Tories in protest at its increasing hostility to Europe. And now?

"Cameron's pampering to the Euro sceptics is extremely risky, " he said.

"It could result in an outcome that he claims he is against, a British exit from the EU. Leaving the EU would weaken the UK's position and jeopardise three-and-a-half million jobs."

If our membership to the EU was a marriage, we would be celebrating a ruby anniversary. After 40 years together, there would be talk of a little give and take to make the relationship a successful one.

But the match between the UK and the EU is going to require some counselling. The Prime Minister will address that in his speech. But any counselling may come in the shape of a referendum.