As we have not left the European Union, it is looking increasingly likely that we will be participating in the elections for the European Parliament on 23 May. The European Parliament co-writes legislation covering the 510 million people who live in the European Union nations and the EU budget. It also appoints the president of the EU Commission and works with it and the Council of Ministers for the states of the EU.
Unless things change by 23 May, we will need to elect 6 members of the European Parliament to represent the South West region. The region is huge stretching from Gloucester to Bournemouth to the Isles of Scilly and even Gibraltar. There are currently no MEPs from Cornwall, which is partly why I am standing on the list of candidates for the Labour Party. However long we are to remain in the EU, it would be good to have a voice from Cornwall in the EU Parliament. The EU has a big impact on Cornwall in many ways.
We are the only part of England to qualify for EU structural funding and have received over €1 billion in the last 20 years. The new round of funding, which we were likely to qualify for again, is due to start in 2021. It lasts 7 years and would be worth around £350 million to Cornwall. Importantly, EU funding is distributed according to need, not politics.
Despite all the projects that money has supported, many people in Cornwall say they still haven’t felt the benefits of EU funding. This is likely to be because the money has been distributed through a complicated system that has become increasingly centralised under this Conservative government which has made it harder to access. Where it has been spent, people often do not get to hear about it. If I were an MEP, my Labour colleagues and I will be pushing to simplify that system so that where the structural funding goes is decided locally in Cornwall.
There is real concern that the Conservative Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is supposed to replace EU funding in this country after Brexit, will leave Cornwall short of funds and fighting with other regions for a share of the pot. Cornwall Council leader, Adam Paynter said last week “The Government’s lack of clarity over funding and devolution post-Brexit could have a significant impact on everyone’s lives within Cornwall." Labour have indicated that funding to Cornwall post-Brexit would be ringfenced under a Labour government.
Two thirds of all Cornish exports go to the EU. It is an essential market for our food and our fish. Tariffs or delay could catastrophically damage these industries. There is still no comprehensive plan from the government to replace the financial help that these industries receive from EU funds after Brexit or safeguard our exports.
Workers in Cornwall earn nearly £100 per week less than the UK average and are much more likely to be self-employed. Labour MEPs will work to extend current employment protections to zero hours’ contract workers and the bogus self-employed. Europe has the weight to take on the multinationals and protect our rights. Our Conservative government has shown it is not up to this task.
For however long we may remain in the EU, we need MEPs who are prepared to turn up, get stuck in and work hard for the people of Cornwall. That is what your Labour MEPs will do. What happens in the European Parliament matters here.
This blog will be created by members of the Exec committee on topics of interest to the St Austell & Newquay Labour Party