PORTSMOUTH has more to gain than any other city should Britain vote to leave the European Union.
That was the claim from MP Penny Mordaunt as she joined an army of supporters, including the government’s employment minister, in promoting the Vote Leave campaign yesterday.
The Brexit battlebus arrived in Guildhall Square – without its cheerleader Boris Johnson – sending out a message that Britain spends £350m a week as part of its EU membership deal. They say that is money that could be spent on public services here.
But campaigners supporting the drive to keep Britain in Europe have dismissed that as propaganda.
Ms Mordaunt said Portsmouth came out on top in a table of cities with the highest average monthly export sales – and leaving the EU will enable it to expand its global reach.
She said: ‘Our city is the biggest exporter in the UK, and that means we have the most to gain from being able to forge new trade agreements all around the world. It’s so important we encourage people to vote in this referendum.
If we pull out, it’s more than likely we will be back in a recession, there will be less work and fewer jobs, and the economy will suffer.Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth Lib Dem leader
‘It’s such an important decision and we want everyone to take part. I feel very passionately that my city and country can thrive if we can take back control of our money, the £350m we spend every week, and take back control of our borders. As someone who oversees defence I know we can’t keep our country as safe as we would want it to be.
‘Last but by no means least, we have got to take back control of our law-making.’
But Lib Dem group leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who is backing Britain to remain in the EU, said: ‘We are not the biggest exporter – Southampton has a bigger port than us and so does Felixstowe. We are mainly an importer.’
He added: ‘We chose to join the club, and to be in the club we pay a membership fee. The question everyone has to ask is, do we get something for our membership fee?
‘The chancellor of the Bank of England, who is not a politician, has absolutely made it clear, that if we pull out, it’s more than likely we will be back in a recession, there will be less work and fewer jobs, and the economy will suffer.’
Meanwhile, employment minister Priti Patel said the University of Portsmouth has the ability to thrive outside the EU – despite recent concerns that the move would result in the loss of millions of pounds brought into the local economy by foreign students.
Mrs Patel said: ‘Look at how great our British universities are and the reputation they have.
‘They have that without the EU. They stand on their own two feet because of the quality of standards they have to offer.
‘The point about funding is, if we reallocated this £350m that we give to the institution of the EU, which would amount to £20bn just in this one year, it would be spent in areas we see as a priority but also on institutions we see fit.
‘It would enable us to safeguard the standing of educational institutions such as Portsmouth.’
Mrs Patel dismissed concerns by employers in the region about the dangers of leaving, saying big corporations are in the ‘pockets’ of the EU institution and do not speak up for their employee base.
She said: ‘They are big businesses with a lot of clout and influence, and political influence, as well.’
Addressing the concerns over the university, Ms Mordaunt added: ‘That’s absolutely crazy.
‘Why on earth would students suddenly stop coming here, and why would we not want to come here?’