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Home   Kent   News   Article

Kent MPs on whether they're voting to stay or leave the European Union

22 February 2016
by Paul Francis

Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat has become the latest Kent MP to say that he will be supporting the call to remain in the EU at the referendum in June.

He announced his decision in a letter to constituents in which he said the UK's economic and national security would be safeguarded by remaining in the EU.

"As we have learnt time and again from history, fixing a broken Europe would be more costly than correcting a misdirected one. For me, this is why we should stay. Our security is more than just the size of our military or the stability of our economy; it is the prosperity of our allies and the confidence of our friends."

I cannot, in all conscience, follow my heart and not my head when to do so would, I believe, diminish our security - Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat

"No matter how emotionally appealing it would be to leave, I have a duty to think hard what would be best for Britain and best for our community. I cannot, in all conscience, follow my heart and not my head when to do so would, I believe, diminish our security."

His announcement brings the number of Kent MPs joining the "stay" camp to eight.

There are now just three MPs in the county who remain either undecided or yet to declare: Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whatley; Gillingham MP Rehman Chishti and Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst.

Maidstone and Weald MP Helen Grant joined the "stay" camp yesterday.

She said that while the EU was far from perfect, she believed "this country is strnger, safer and better off 'in' - both within the European context and on the global stage."

Helen Grant says she will vote to stay in the EU

Helen Grant says she will vote to stay in the EU

Two MPs who have generally been regarded as Euro-sceptic have created some surprise after declaring they would back remaining in the EU. 

Dover MP Charlie Elphicke said he reached the decision to support remaining part of the EU after much soul searching.

He said he did not want to see an end to the arrangement that allows UK border officials to be based at Calais - the so-called Touquet Treaty - which it is feared could end if the UK voted to quit.

"It was a very difficult decision to make but I feel we can't risk losing the Le Touquet agreement we have with France," he told the East Kent Mercury.

Sir Roger Gale, the North Thanet MP, said he too would vote to stay. He said he wanted to ensure that the interests of Britons who had moved to Europe were safeguarded.

"I have already written to the PM to seek clarification in respect of pension rights, uprating and other benefits and I am awaiting a response but it looks as though a “Brexit” vote would pile uncertainty upon what are already sometimes difficult situations and decisions."

Canterbury MP Julian Brazier will be voting for the UK to leave the EU.

Mr Brazier issued a statement detailing his reasons for wanting to see a break with the EU, citing the pressure on public services caused by the "torrent of people" coming into the country.

"We have to face up to the sheer arithmetic of Britain’s spiralling population and all that means for housing shortages, strain on our public services and infrastructure. 

Julian Brazier MP

Julian Brazier MP

"The briefest study of today’s mounting overload in our primary schools shows how much worse these strains will become in the next generation."

He added: "And that would be even if we were to take charge of our borders and somehow bring migration into balance tomorrow."

He also expressed concern over "torrent of people" coming to Europe.

"The bulk of these people are young men from a range of poor countries, rubbing shoulders with genuine refugees as they seek a better way of life.

"If we do not reassert control of our borders, they will be free to come to Britain as soon as they have achieved settled status in any part of the continent."

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson is also calling for a Brexit.
 
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson on the rooftop of the Houses of Parliament

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson on the rooftop of the Houses of Parliament

 
He said: “This vote is about autonomy - giving Britain greater say over the laws that affect us.
 
“Leaving the EU will still result in us having a strong voice - still remaining a member of the influential G7 economic group of nations, still a member of the UN Security Council, and still a fully paid up member of NATO.
 
“So I don’t subscribe to the view we’ll be isolated. As for trading coming out of the EU opens up a wider market.”
 
Will he be actively campaigning? “I’ve got no plan to take a particularly active role. This is not about MPs - it’s about what people think. The important thing is my vote counts as much as anyone else.”

The Prime Minister has suffered a blow with the news that Mayor of London Boris Johnson is to campaign to leave.

And while the poll is several months away, political opinion in Kent is, not unexpectedly, divided with the county's MPs and MEPs split on the question of whether we would be better off out or in.

David Cameron

David Cameron

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader and South East MEP, was predictably scornful of the deal, claiming Mr Cameron has failed to deliver on his key pledges.

He rubbished suggestions that if the country voted to leave, migrant camps would be set up in Kent, saying that migrants would "disperse within minutes" if they arrived in the UK.

Interviewed on the Andrew Marr show, he said: "We would not build a camp and we certainly wouldn't block the [Channel] tunnel." 

He said the deal was "pathetic" and the referendum represented a "golden opportunity" to finally break away from the EU.

Ashford MP Damian Green - a long-standing supporter of the EU - took a different tack, welcoming the deal and saying the country would be 'stronger, safer and richer' by staying in the EU.

He got campaigning underway quickly, helping man a street stall in his constituency for the pro-EU group "Stronger In".

Announcing the referendum, Mr Cameron said: “We are approaching one of the biggest decisions we will face in our lifetime - whether we want to remain in the European Union or leave."

He added that leaving the EU would risk the country's economic security and the deal gave the UK "special status."

Voters will be having their say on who sits in the European Parliament

Voters will be having their say on who sits in the European Parliament

Several of the county's MPs are expected to vote to leave, including South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, who announced his decision several weeks ago, saying that the negotiations would achieve little.

Gravesham MP Adam Holloway is also in the 'no' camp.

Senior figures, including the Sevenoaks MP and defence minister Michael Fallon and communities secretary and Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark are to back remaining in the EU.

Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins also signalled his support for staying, saying Mr Cameron had secured important safeguards for the economy, notably the status of the City of London.

In Gillingham High street listening 2 residents views on upcoming EU Referendum before finally making my decision pic.twitter.com/D9JSY92YDl

Labour South East MEP Annelise Dodds said the referendum was a chance to underline why staying in would benefit places like Medway.

"I’m pleased that with the negotiations done, we can now get on with discussing the benefits of the EU for Medway- particularly when it comes to protecting local people's jobs and rights at work, as well as EU investment."

Eurotunnel chairman and chief executive, Jacques Gounon said: "I am pleased that a deal has been reached in Brussels.

"Our customers are forecasting growth in transport across the Channel in the coming years, whatever the decision by the British people on their place in Europe, and Eurotunnel will always be here to provide them with the fastest, most reliable and most secure route across the Channel".            


ANALYSIS

He got a deal after a longer than expected summit but will it be enough to win over the waverers? And does it represent the fundamental and far-reaching changes promised?

In Kent, the issue of immigration and asylum seekers has proved politically toxic and Mr Cameron appears to have secured a deal that goes some way - but not all the way - to allow him to be able to claim that the UK can better control the influx through measures that will limit the access to benefits.

But critics have not been slow to point out the seven-year brake on welfare benefits does not actually prevent migrants coming over to the UK under the laws on freedom of movement. It is unclear at this stage how it may be applied, other than by raising with the Commission that freedom of movement is somehow threatening the sustainability of public services - particularly pertinent to Kent.

With several months to go, some of the elements of the Cameron deal may not prove to be as good as they appear to be at first sight.

And there are signs that we could be in for a lot of negative campaigning on both sides - already, a claim by the PM that migrant camps of the sort that we have seen in Calais could end up in Dover and Folkestone if the country votes to leave.

We can expect more of that sort of thing as the campaign rolls on. Whether voters will respond to an argument driven by scare tactics is something else.

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