NORTHERN Powerhouse minister James Wharton nailed his colours firmly to the mast today (MONDAY) as he said he would campaign for the UK to leave the European Union.

The Conservative MP for Stockton South said he would be backing the "Leave" campaign before the EU referendum vote, on June 23 this year.

He made the announcement on Twitter yesterday, saying: "I will be voting for Brexit and supporting the excellent Vote Leave campaign. We should look to the world, not just the EU."

But Mr Wharton was accused by those in the "In" campaign of "letting down" the region, which is the country's only net exporter to Europe.

Jessie Joe Jacobs, North-East field director for the In campaign, said if Britain left the EU the region would miss out on vital investment, for example the £3bn received through the European Regional Development Fund. The North-East has received £680m since 2007, and over the next five years is due to receive more than £600m.

The money sustains Consett Business Park, allows County Durham’s Beamish Museum to expand and will see jobs offered to people at places like Newcastle’s Science Central and Hartlepool Growth Hub.

Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond also warned that leaving the EU would kill investment and would punish factories such as Nissan, in Sunderland, where more than 6,000 North-East people earn a wage.

Ms Jacobs said: "The truth is that Mr Wharton is no champion of this region. The Northern Powerhouse Minister is letting down all of the people who choose to build their future here in the North."

Mike Matthews, managing director of car component supplier Nifco UK, based in Eaglescliffe, and European operations officer for Nifco Europe, said staying in the EU was vital for the UK car industry, which is more successful than it has ever been - and exports 85 per cent of its goods into Europe.

"We need to grow our exports, not shrink them," he said.

"Mr Wharton's stance is a little bit surprising given that the leader of the party is in favour of staying in but I think he is a good politician. However the North-East is the only net exporter of any region in the UK and the Northern Powerhouse wants to be part of that."

The Institute of Directors (IoD) released a survey today (MONDAY) showing that 60 per cent of its members favour staying in the EU - and North-East chairman Graham Robb said that figure was probably higher among business leaders in the region.

"Business in the region does regard itself as at the forefront of the EU debate because of its export prowess," he said. "But James Wharton's stance is based on many and long held views and they are credible, but not views that businesses which are members of the IoD necessarily agree with. We have no problem with his views at all and I think the debate will be courteous, professional and based on facts."