PORTSMOUTH’s MPs are ready to go head to head in the battle over whether Britain should stay in the European Union.
As the build-up to the EU referendum in June begins to hot up, Portsmouth North MP and armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt has declared she will be one of the driving forces of the so-called Brexit campaign.
But Flick Drummond, who represents Portsmouth South, has vowed to stand by her pro-Europe principles and work to convince constituents that staying in the EU would be the best result for the city.
The region’s other MPs, meanwhile, remain undecided which way they’ll vote, while the leaders of Portsmouth and Fareham councils have committed to support efforts to get Britain out.
Ms Mordaunt, who last week said she was backing the Prime Minister in his bid to get renegotiated terms, said: ‘I think without further EU reform the UK and Europe will never be as safe, secure and prosperous as it could be. It needs reform to thrive and we have seen from these negotiations it is incapable of that.
‘Anyone who wants further reform and a Europe based on democracy and therefore responsive to its people’s needs and concerns should vote to leave and trigger further negotiations.’
Mrs Drummond said she isn’t fazed about differences in opinion and dismissed the suggestion of Portsmouth being divided. She said: ‘I think the economic argument for being in the largest free market in the world without tariffs or import taxes is very important for our businesses.
‘We invest just £140 per head to be part of this market with a return of roughly £3,000 per head. Trade with the EU is very important to us here in Portsmouth.’
She added: ‘Penny and I work very closely together and this won’t make the slight bit of difference. I have a vote, so does she and so does everyone else.’
Business leaders meanwhile are cautious.
Stewart Dunn, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said: ‘At this stage, successive polls have shown a majority of business leaders want to remain in the EU, and yet we know opinion in Hampshire is split.
‘The bigger your business, and the more you depend on exporting to Europe, the more likely you are to want to remain. If you have a small business, don’t export or do most of your export trade outside the EU, you may be less persuaded of the benefits.’
He added: ‘European red tape is something that frustrates our members, not least small and medium-sized enterprises.
‘It remains to be seen if David Cameron’s reform deal, with its commitment to reducing unnecessary regulation, will have done enough to convince those business leaders who would otherwise vote to leave.’