Gordon Dewar: Leaving EU would damage Scottish trade

Leading a fast-growing international airport requires me to look closely at issues of trade, tourism and travel and it's abundantly clear to me that our membership of the European Union has greatly benefited us in these areas, so to leave the EU would do a great deal of damage.
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar. Picture: Julie BullEdinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar. Picture: Julie Bull
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar. Picture: Julie Bull

Let me take the issue of travel to start with: Edinburgh has become the largest airport in Scotland due to the significant growth in air travel that is a direct result of the EU’s policies. The bloc has got rid of many barriers that beforehand meant buying a plane ticket was a once-a-year, or even a once-in-a-lifetime, indulgence for anyone, apart from the very rich. Airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, but also traditional carriers such as BA, have taken advantage of less red tape and fewer barriers. This is a key point – contrary to what some people would have us believe, the EU has in fact reduced red tape.

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This has ultimately transformed the way we spend our leisure time and do business. Families and friends can decide on a last-minute weekend city break, while our young people think nothing of jetting away for some shopping or some relaxation by the sea. Scottish business benefits from lower airfares because companies and their people can easily get to other cities to meet colleagues, while those whose work takes them elsewhere can still easily enjoy a home life back in Scotland.

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And then there’s tourism: as a result of the ease of travel across the EU, many more people are coming to Scotland. The tourism industry is already our largest employer in Scotland and Europe represents our biggest opportunity for future growth.

The figures speak for themselves – more than 1.1 million passengers used our airport last month, making it the busiest May ever – all of our growth came from international travel. We have launched many new routes over the past few months to cities such as Stuttgart, Vienna and Venice. It doesn’t take an economics degree to understand the social and economic benefit of people visiting our country as a direct result of these new routes.

And we shouldn’t forget that the airport doesn’t just help to move people – with more than 50 per cent of our exports going to the EU, Edinburgh Airport is the gateway to European markets for many producers of goods around Scotland.

I know that those who support leaving the EU will ask why can’t we conclude these deals outside of the EU? Put simply, it will be very difficult to co-ordinate: even if we can reach agreements with some countries, it won’t happen overnight and there will be much pain and frustration in the meantime.

The Leave campaign has already said that one of its first tasks will be to restrict movement for EU citizens should they win the referendum. Once you start putting up barriers, once those queues get a bit longer, once it’s more difficult for airlines to start new routes and once it’s more difficult for people to come and travel and work in Scotland, as sure as night follows day our economy will suffer.

That’s why, seeing the benefits day-in day-out that the EU has brought to travel across the continent, I strongly support us remaining in the EU.

• Gordon Dewar is chief executive of Edinburgh Airport