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Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron
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European cash has helped finance some of Blackpool’s biggest showcase projects – from seafront regeneration to super trams.

Now the cash is drying up, as one tourism trade leader puts it, is time running out for European Union membership?

Clare Smith, president of StayBlackpool, admits: “If I voted with my heart it would be out, out, out. But I don’t know enough about the impact upon our export trade. I suspect the cash for Blackpool has dried up and I’d rather leave before getting dragged down by the Eurozone mess. But cherry picking what works for us might be a compromise.”

Voters will be given the chance to leave the EU by the end of 2017. The Prime Minister’s promise marks his biggest gamble. David Cameron also vows to campaign for Britain to stay in.

Paul Nuttall, local MEP and deputy leader of UKIP, says: “He’s playing politics. It’s timed for after the General Election – which he will lose. Re-renegotiating membership when he’s already been told renegotiation is out of the question is an empty promise. UKIP has forced his hand. Our performance at the polls has frightened him. We’re gaining ground daily. We plan on fielding a candidate in every seat in the coming county council elections.”

Nine years since joining UKIP, Bootle-born Nuttall is deputy party leader and Member of the European Parliament.

“We’re not racists or homophobes and we have nothing to do with nationalism. We’re not a single issue party focused on getting out of Europe but have a raft of firm but fair policies. With each election, local, national, European, the attitude changes from ridicule to acceptance.”

Paul Maynard, Tory MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys says: “The PM has provided clear leadership and a vision at one with the British people.

“It is right we endeavour to negotiate a better deal nd back that position up with a straight in or out referendum.

“The EU single market offers great opportunities and it is important we access that market, however we cannot have European institutions stifling growth, prosperity and freedoms with an inflexible straitjacket.

“The PM has my full support as we move towards a Europe that allows this country to compete in a global race, and a European Union flexible to needs all its member states.

“ If this cannot be achieved then the EU is a club that the people of Blackpool and 
Cleveleys will be able to have a say on leaving and I will be fully supportive of that.”

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden maintains: “It is a meaningless promise from a weak PM which doesn’t address the actual situation.

“ It is sensible to ask questions like this when we’re out of the current economic crisis which he should be dealing with rather than making open ended comments to placate a section of his own back benchers.

“It’s bad for business, investment and the economy.”

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn says: “I am staggered that once again the Conservative Party seem intent on tearing themselves, and the nation apart over the issue of Europe.

“This demonstrates how out of touch they are. People are concerned about their jobs, their homes and their children’s education - nobody has ever, in 10 years as a local councillor come to see me about Europe.

“To anyone aged under 40, Europe is something into which we were born, and those people are genuinely puzzled by the obsession that the right has with the EU.

“The danger with referenda in general is they draw out only those people who feel passionately about the subject – in the case of Europe, the vast majority of people are fairly passive, and polls which exclude the large numbers of ‘Don’t knows/Don’t cares’ give a fundamentally skewed picture.

“Rather than promise a referendum in four years time, the PM needs to demonstrate leadership, if he thinks we should be out of the EU, he should say so, and explain his reasons.”

Iain Hawkins, head of Merlin’s Blackpool Cluster, adds: “We have corporate trade links across Europe, and 41 general managers support those have a rougher time of it, and a balanced portfolio protects us all.

“That’s why I don’t think we should cut ourselves off from Europe.

“There are some great partnerships and positives within it. Re-negotiation is the way forward. Blackpool’s had a lot out of Europe, people should open their eyes to that.”

Martin Long, chairman of Blackpool Business Leadership Group, adds: “The business community generally would want to remain within the EU but I think it is important our role within it is negotiated on a regular basis.”

Steve Pye, chairman of the 1,000-strong local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, concludes: “The EU is responsible for about 45 per cent of trading for the UK which has to be taken into account. I’d prefer to stay in - but with caveats to renegotiate a better deal.”