I was delighted to be able to return to Drax, a major power station in my constituency and the second largest in Europe, to talk about the EU referendum with staff and management last week.
The main event of the day was an exchange of views on European issues — there was standing room only for a debate between myself and an ex-UKIP (currently Tory) MEP. But I was also able to see the plant itself and chat to workers to hear some of their concerns about the EU debate, and answer their questions.
It’s no surprise that workers and managers alike at Drax are very concerned about the future of the UK if we were to quit the EU. Drax has been one of the leading lights in Europe in exploring effective alternatives to fossil fuels and developing lower-carbon power generation technologies, and it’s had significant EU support to do so. It would have had still more, had the government not pulled the plug on Drax piloting an EU-backed Carbon Capture and Storage (“clean coal”) project.
But beyond that, of course, Britain’s heavy industry — especially in the north of England — is one of the most vulnerable sectors to the weakening of the economy that would follow a UK withdrawal from Europe.
The EU supports British jobs, not just directly through trade and strategic funding, but also through the boost to GDP that we gain from membership. Drax, like so many other UK facilities, would be hit hard if we were to lose that.