A Vote to Remain Will Keep the Northern Powerhouse on Track

26/05/2016 11:10 | Updated 26 May 2016

With just four weeks to go before the EU Referendum, it is timely to reflect on how the single market has proved vital to our regional economies. I represent Macclesfield, a constituency in the manufacturing powerhouse of the UK, the North West. Ours is a region that has been a real beneficiary of the removal of tariffs and other barriers to our trade in goods. As the Northern Powerhouse rebalances our national economy, the North West can now look forward to benefiting from the developing single market in services too.

This week, the leading accountancy firm, EY, released its latest annual UK investor attractiveness report. It highlighted how the UK continues to be the leading destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects in Europe. Crucially, these projects are increasingly a feature of regional economies within the UK. Almost 90% of the UK's total growth in FDI projects came from regions outside of London and the South East. The North West saw an increase of 118%. But - and it is a big 'but' - EY also highlights that access to the EU single market is important to these investors. Indeed, the proportion of investors who say that such access is a key feature of the UK's attractiveness has increased markedly from 63% to 72% to 79% over the last three years. When the Leave campaign say that they don't want us to be members of the single market, I think we are wise to pause for thought. We are stronger, safer and better off if we remain.

Of course, if there is a vote to leave, other options to secure some form of access to the EU's markets would, in time, be negotiated, but who knows quite how long it would take, or what kind of lesser-access deal we'd get. We do know that access to the single market would not be granted freely; we don't know exactly what the price would be. Drawing on my previous experience in commerce, I know that such uncertainty is bad for business and for the economy more widely.

It is clear that the majority of industries that are key to the future of the economy in the Northern Powerhouse want us to stay in the EU. They want us to keep working for the completion of the single market. Take life sciences. AstraZeneca has a major presence in Macclesfield with around 3,000 highly skilled workers based on the largest pharmaceuticals site in the UK. This single site alone accounts for one per cent of all goods exported from the UK. The company was a leading signatory of a recent letter from the life-science sector in support of a remain vote.

We mustn't forget that the United Kingdom drove the single market, in our own national interest, by playing our full part in making the positive case for competitive trade across the EU. And it was from 1993, when the single market in goods took effect, that the UK saw the greatest benefit of EU membership. Now we must turn our energy to completing the single market across the services sector and the digital market, and we can only do that from within.

It is too simplistic, to say the least, to think that having filed for divorce with a vote to Leave we would get to dictate from the sidelines the terms and settlement to access EU markets following the separation. For all its frustrations, being part of the world's largest trading bloc, is critical for the investment projects that are so vital for success in the Northern Powerhouse. We need to remain to keep it that way.