I have spent many mornings in the last two months up earlier than I would have wished; I have spent many nights interrupted when I desperately needed the rest. I am fortunate: exams, general elections, difficult decisions – none of them have disturbed Gummer’s slumber. But in the last few weeks, this referendum has robbed me of hours of sleep.
Why? If I wake up on 24th June to find that we have left the European Union, I will still have my wonderful wife and most beautiful son, I will still be a Member of Parliament and Ipswich will still sit on the banks of the Orwell, where it has been for more than a thousand years. The things that most matter will still be with me – family, friends, a job and a future. But things will also have changed and changed in a way that can never be undone. In Ipswich, having spent the last six years climbing up tall and difficult ladders, we will have just slid down a massive and not very forgiving snake. Beyond our town, our country will have said something profound about itself and about its place in the world – and that statement will have repercussions for me, for you, for my children and for yours, and for the whole of this great country of ours.
This all sounds very ominous – and it is. Don’t take my word for it: businesses large, medium and small across our town – businesses employing between them many thousands of people – are desperate for us to remain in the European Union. Whether it is big boys like BT or Axa, the middle-sized companies like MLM or Bolton Aerospace, or the small business people who have ploughed their savings, their pensions and their mortgages into their dreams – people like Cathy Frost, of LoveOne in St Peter’s Street: all of them are pleading with you, the voters, to tick that box that says ‘Remain’. They know the tariffs that will come, and the fall in investment that is inevitable, will mean that their businesses will suffer. This is not some technical analysis or an idle threat: it is real jobs, supporting real families, that are at stake.
Clearly this is a worry for me: I feel the jeopardy in which hundreds and thousands of jobs in our town and country are currently placed. But for Ipswich it is more. We have worked so hard over the last few years to get this town into the place it should be. We have so much more to do but we can see the signs of progress: empty shops are filling up; money is about to flood in to fix the roads and the railways; and we are seeing the schools and hospital performing better than ever before. Yet the economic shock that will come if we leave the EU will mean that government revenues will be hit and the funding for all of this is at risk – and all the good work that we have put in over the last few years could be put on hold – or even reversed – in the downturn that would follow a Brexit vote.
That makes me very fearful too but the main reason for my open-eyed nights is this: I want to live in a country that is open, tolerant, kind and optimistic. A victory for Vote Leave would be a victory for the kind of mean, nasty, pessimistic, downbeat and intolerant Britain that Mr Farage wants to create. We have seen how just in this campaign that kind of politics has divided the nation and spread fear where there should be none. Of course there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed: immigration, accountability and proper wages. But none of this will be decided positively by crashing our economy into a wall and then giving the keys for what is left to the kind of people who have driven the Vote Leave campaign. It is that kind of Britain that keeps me awake at night, because it is a Britain that I do not want to pass on to my son.
The alternative is a happier and more promising one. It is of a Britain engaged with the world and working with its near neighbours to fix the problems that we all face, a Britain more confident in itself and more secure for its citizens, a Britain that is safer, more secure and more prosperous, a Britain that is stronger for having voted to remain in.