One of the other North East MEPs, Labour's Jude Kirton-Darling, has written a defence of the European Union in the Huffington Post. For today's column, I thought it might make sense to take up the challenge, examine some of the arguments used - and see whether they stand up to scrutiny. She believes that the referendum will take place as early as June - just 6 months from now. I beg to differ; June just 5 months away. It would in any event be an incredibly tight timescale and Cameron would run into some logistical problems. But I digress. Let's look at the key arguments:
"Decisions made by elected MEPs or national ministers are turned into 'diktats from Brussels' in the UK mainstream media or the annual reports of the Court of Auditors on the EU accounts are ignored in favour of the ongoing lie that the EU's accounts have not been signed off."
The phrase 'diktats from Brussels' relate to the fact that, almost every time, the driving force behind new legislation is the unelected Commission. Elected MEPs end up being little more than a rubber-stamping chamber. There is no 'government' and 'opposition' in the European Parliament, meaning that it's much harder for a bad piece of legislation to be blocked. That's why, for example, new VAT rules are costing British jobs right here, right now.
What about the European Union accounts? Well, it's splitting hairs to argue that they have 'been signed off'. The Court of Auditors said this about the accounts: "Payments for 2014 are materially affected by error. We therefore give an adverse opinion on their legality and regularity". Straightforward and simple enough? We're talking about €6 billion of taxpayers' money affected by either error, or fraud. Hence for example the very accurate headline in the Times saying 'Billions spent by Brussels is irregular and possibly illegal'.
The next complaint is as follows: "Every grievance is given its European scapegoat, most recently shown with attempts to blame the floods on the EU, rather than budget cuts and climate change...False claims need to be challenged and exposed."
Sadly, dredging of rivers is genuinely harder with the European Water Framework Directive. That increases the risk of flooding.
And under the Common Agricultural Policy, trees are unnecessarily chopped down so that farmers receive subsidy. Yet trees retain water 67 times better than grass. If the water isn't retained, it floods. Don't believe it from me, because I'm UKIP? How about Monbiot in the Guardian?
The next claim, I actually agree with. "Poorer regions of the UK are more dependent on exports to the EU than richer ones. Exports to the EU account for 15% of private sector output in the North East of England supporting around 170,000 jobs in the region"
But as trade with the EU would continue outside the EU, this is a complete irrelevance to the debate on whether we should be members of the European Union. In fact, jobs are being lost today through our EU membership. Does anyone seriously think that, had we not been bound by the European Union's rules, we would still have been incapable of saving the steel industry in Redcar?
"Moreover, the North East is the largest net beneficiary of EU membership of the English regions - vital investment into our infrastructure, business development and skills."
We spend £55 million every day on our membership of the European Union. Just over half of that is returned to us, with strings attached. It's not spent as efficiently as it should be, and far too much of the money is wasted on bureaucracy. The parochial attempt to hypothecate different amounts of money for different regions, and claim that the North East 'is a net beneficiary', is shaky at best statistically and economically. The obvious point is that by leaving the EU we could replace every penny of that spending, make sure it's spent far more efficiently, and the Treasury would have an extra £10 billion per year or so. Quite useful at a time of austerity, no?
The best defence Labour have to offer? 'Oh but the Tories would never do that'. The last defence of Labour: blame the Conservatives. But which Party is in government today shouldn't determine the next few decades of our future. The argument is a house of cards which falls down when examined.
"EU rules have cleaned our air, beaches and waterways, delivered equal pay for men and women and rights to paid holiday for all workers, and ensured redress for consumers."
I've already destroyed this claim in much more detail in a previous article. But this is another example of the kind of historic revisionism that the European Union loves. I've covered much of this before but I'll give just one example. We joined the EU (or its forerunner) in 1973. The Equal Pay Act was passed in the UK in 1970. So unless the European Union is capable of time travel, it did not deliver equal pay for men and women.
The case for the European Union is wafer-thin. It collapses almost immediately on closer examination. And don't forget, there are some brave Labour MPs - like Kate Hoey, Khalid Mahmood, Frank Field, Graham Stringer, Ronnie Campbell and Kelvin Hopkins - who recognise that the EU is against the interests of the Left wing of British politics as well as the Right. Fortunately, Jude Kirton-Darling's views are not universal in the Labour Party!