A MEMBER of the European Parliament says Dorset businesses could lose out if the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union.

South West MEP Graham Watson says that hundreds of thousands of jobs across the region depend on the EU and claims the business case for staying in Europe is becoming clear as the county prepares to vote in the European elections next month.

The Liberal Democrat MEP said: “Just last week the Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry came out and said how Dorset businesses have to do more to make the most of export markets if the economic recovery is to really take hold around here.”

Mr Watson said the Chamber was working hard to help local businesses feel their way into the export market and, as the UK’s biggest export market, Europe was vital in that.

He added: “An estimated 360,000 jobs across the South West, and 59 per cent of the region’s exports, depend on the EU – much higher than the national average.”

Mr Watson said that there was a ‘growing chorus’ of business leaders and firms calling for Britain to stay in the EU.

He added: “There are a number of Dorset employers that export to the EU and could really suffer if we left the single market.

“Over in Weymouth, fashion retailer New Look, who opened their first ever shop in Taunton in 1969 and have a big office in Weymouth, have stores in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and across Eastern Europe.”

Mr Watson said Poole-based firms such as Lush Cosmetics, luxury yacht manufacturer Sunseeker and heat exchanger firm Heatric could also see their international trade suffer.

He said: “It’s not just about stuff made in Dorset – a phenomenal amount of international trade goes in and out of Poole, Weymouth and Portland’s harbours thanks to their prime south coast location.

“Being in the EU also helps Dorset’s local agricultural produce, with Dorset blue cheese, West Country Farmhouse Cheddar and west country beef and lamb all enjoying protected EU status which guarantees quality and keeps jobs local.”

While many UKIP and some Conservative politicians advocate a British exit from the EU, Mr Watson’s party claims staying in Europe will protect British jobs.

He said: “As a Liberal Democrat I want Britain to stay in the EU because we want to protect our jobs.

“In Europe means in work – it’s as simple as that.”

For more information about the European elections and a full list of candidates visit europarl.org.uk/en/eurpean_elections/candidates2014