Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 22nd June 2016

Tomorrow is the EU Referendum, while various points have been made locally about the national impact of either outcome, as the Leader of Crawley Borough Council I’ve spent my time considering how the vote stands to affect the town.

Crawley’s economy is more tied into mainland Europe than most, with big European-owned companies such as Elekta and Nestlé (while Switzerland isn’t in the EU it is in EFTA) providing much of the town’s employment. Thales has written to staff highlighting the risks of Brexit and Gatwick has raised similar concerns.

Given just economically dominant Gatwick is in the sub-region it’s worth considering the Airport’s case in detail. Planes can’t simply fly across national borders, it requires agreements with those other countries and the EU has negotiated aviation agreements between member states and further afield, creating the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA). While the UK might be able to negotiate re-entry into the ECAA from outside of the EU this typically requires accepting the same freedom of migration across the EU as we have now in addition to following other EU aviation laws, only without any voice as to what they are.

The alternative is negotiating individual deals with each of the countries we would look to fly to or through. Even if the UK can negotiate the same conditions as we currently have as a member of the world’s largest economy this would still take considerable time, creating uncertainty around the future of UK aviation and risking the loss of trade to rival European airports.

The economy affects everything, from jobs and homes to pensions and the money available for public services. The scale of the potential economic impact of Brexit upon employment and housebuilding is such that even with maximum immigration controls the most probable outcome would be to make finding a job and somewhere to live in Crawley harder, not easier, for local people.

Does that mean that Crawley cannot survive with a UK outside of the EU? Of course not, but there’s a big difference between what it is to ‘survive’ and what it is to ‘thrive’.

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