Staying in the EU is best for Britain – and transport

In less than two months, Britain will go to the polls once again.

This time, it's not a general election. It's much more important than that.

It's a historic vote that will radically shape this country's future, whether we decide to stay in the European Union or not. So it deserves a serious debate that allows everyone to weigh up the arguments and make an informed decision.

I'm not one of those people who think the "pros" or the "antis" have all the answers. I appreciate there are longstanding reasons why people want Britain to quit the EU. But I believe there are more persuasive reasons for staying in. And my conviction has only grown since I became Transport Secretary.

The first is that our economy will be better off. And the transport industry will be better off. Just consider our flourishing UK motor industry. We make some of the best and most in-demand cars in the world. Last year almost 1.6 million of them rolled off the production lines, the highest for a decade.

But a recent poll revealed that more than three-quarters of UK car manufacturers say quitting the EU would hurt their businesses.

Today's motor industry is truly pan-European and global. And Britain benefits hugely from that. We benefited when Toyota, Nissan and Honda chose the UK as the location for the first three Japanese car plants in Europe. We benefited when the fortunes of Jaguar and Land Rover were turned round. And we benefited when BMW and Volkswagen gave famous brands like Mini, Rolls-Royce and Bentley a new lease of life. All of them the result of global manufacturing giants channelling billions into the Midlands and Merseyside, Sunderland and Swindon, Derbyshire and Deeside.

But how many of those companies would have invested here if they'd thought Britain's longterm future was outside Europe, and we'd lose our automatic right to freely move components and vehicles across the single market without trade barriers or tariffs? As BMW has said recently, tariff barriers would mean higher costs and higher prices, and we can't assume that the UK will be granted free trade with Europe if we pulled out.

Even if new agreements could be renegotiated, it could take years. But at what cost? It's not just car firms that thrive because of EU membership. Our shipping, aerospace and freight industries are the same. The overwhelming majority of senior managers in transport want to remain in Europe.

And that brings me to the second reason to stay. It makes travel easier, cheaper and safer.

The EU has a liberalised aviation market, which means our airlines can fly anywhere within the EU without restrictions. British airlines have spearheaded the no-frills revolution over the past two decades. That's brought a 40% reduction in fares and a 180% increase in routes, according to easyJet.

Before deregulation, regular air travel was the preserve of the rich. Today, tens of millions of ordinary Brits take cheap flights for granted.

Of course we would have to try and renegotiate deals. But there are no guarantees.

It's easy to transport goods across modern Europe. But it wasn't always so simple. Before the single market, a haulier needed 88 separate pieces of paper to carry freight between London and Milan. Today, just one is required.

Thanks to EU membership, there are no limits on the amount of alcohol or tobacco we can bring back to the UK from the continent. If Brexit happens, that would change.

And as we have tragically seen recently, transport remains a target for international terrorism. Being a member of the EU means we work and share intelligence with our neighbours and partners to make transport safer.

And this is the third reason not to leave. Inside the EU, we have influence that brings real benefits to Britain. Outside, our influence would slip away.

I've listened to those making the case for Brexit. And frankly, many are putting their faith in a new Utopia – a perfect world free of all outside meddling, yet one that somehow allows Britain to retain all the benefits of free trade.

But the truth is, if we became like Norway, we'd still have to comply with European laws governing ports and shipping, car emissions, air travel, road haulage, rail competition, and many other aspects of transport. We'd just have no power to change them.

Of course Europe's not perfect. But rather than commit an act of national self sabotage by quitting the EU, let's work together to improve it.

That's the best solution for Britain. That's the best solution for our transport industry. And that's why I hope Transport Times readers will vote for Britain to stay in the EU on 23 June.

Reference: Transport Times, May 2016 Issue

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