THE Northern Echo is a newspaper that speaks from the heart.

It also thinks long and hard before expressing an opinion particularly over a matter which has divided our region.

The EU referendum is such an important decision, which will have an impact on the lives of our children and grandchildren, it is important that we vote with our heads as much as with our hearts.

After weighing up all of the key arguments about the prospects for jobs, prosperity, investment, and trade - and matters around sovereignty and identity - we believe that remaining and fighting to make the EU work even harder for our interests is the better way forward.

We are, however, reluctant supporters of Brussels and we greatly respect the strong feeling expressed by those who support the Leave campaign. We share some of their deep concerns about the EU’s lack of accountability and its impact on the democratic process.

The EU is far from perfect but it has set in place rights for workers, including for the poorest in society, and funded efforts against racism and xenophobia.

It has brought jobs and investment to the North-East, as highlighted by the massive investment by Nissan in Sunderland and Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe, and scores of other big employers who came here to set up bases that were close to the world’s largest trading bloc.

Exporting our goods and services to the EU has helped the North-East to become the only part of the UK with a positive balance of trade and we have been a net beneficiary of grants and funding packages that have created thousands of jobs.

The choice being put in front of us goes to the heart of what gives us control as a nation. It might feel appealing to think that we can pull up the drawbridge and strike out on our own but in reality we are better off together. There are huge challenges facing Europe, such as the flow of refugees, international security and climate change, which cross national borders and can be best managed by working with our European neighbours.

The EU has helped to protect our security for three generations and has made us one of the safest countries in the world. While instability and war rages through so many parts of the world the EU has shown itself to be a model where people try to cooperate, trade and work together. It has its share of problems but if all parts of the world were as harmonious as the EU then we would live on a more peaceful earth.

Many people on the Leave side of the debate have said that the reason they want out of the EU is down to immigration. They want control of who comes in and out of the UK. That is a very fair aspiration. However immigration from outside the EU, which we already control, is currently higher than it is from inside, which we don’t have full control over. If you are worried by immigration doesn’t it make sense to work alongside our European partners to help control movement across our borders? If you think a vote for Leave means a guaranteed control over the number of immigrants coming over here then you have been hoodwinked by Nigel Farage and his wholly un-British tendency to favour rhetoric over reason.

We have all had plenty of time to digest the arguments being put forward by the Leave and Remain campaigns. Polling day finally brings some blessed relief from the incessant mudslinging which has characterised what will almost certainly be remembered as the most unpleasant spell of electioneering this country has ever seen. None of the key figures: David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Mr Farage, Jeremy Corbyn or Michael Gove have enhanced their reputations in recent weeks. This has been a debate dominated by middle aged white men in suits and the poisonous nature of this referendum campaign will have done nothing to heal a rift that has been developing between voters and politicians.

The tragic death of MP Jo Cox temporarily brought everyone to their senses and for a few days calm and common sense reigned while politicians paid tribute to a woman who epitomised many of the qualities that we value most in our elected representatives, such as dignity, warmth, open-mindedness, intelligence, and a desire to make the world a better place for the majority. The EU started out with many of those ideals and at times has lost its way, sometimes horribly so, but turning our back on the project feels like a cop-out.

We know that many of you will disagree with our view. We respect your opinion and welcome your comment. The Northern Echo has always been a place that thrives on open debate and every day its pages accommodate a broad spectrum of conflicting views.

One thing that we can all agree on is that we want what is best for the North-East.

To paraphrase the late Mrs Cox we have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us.