POLITICIANS hoping to represent Hampshire have clashed over a new report claiming that the European Union’s (EU) economic benefits for the UK are a myth.

Think tank Civitas’ report says that the UK has not received any “insider advantages” in trade by being a member of the EU and that non-member Switzerland has more trade agreements in place than the entire EU.

But while it has been seized on by Eurosceptic UKIP candidates as proof of the UK’s need to leave the EU, Labour says that it has not been written from a “neutral” perspective and that the EU is vital for thousands of jobs in the south-east.

Civitas’ Where’s the Inside Advantage? report, written by market researcher Michael Burrage, has been released just weeks before people across the region head to the polls on May 22.

It says that trade with fellow EU nations makes up no more of the UK’s trade with top economies now than it did when the country joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

In the report, Mr Burrage says that Switzerland has 26 free-trade agreements in place with non-EU states, in comparison to the EU’s 25.

Ray Finch, who is standing to represent UKIP in the European Parliament, said: “The report says exactly what we have been saying all along – there is no competitive advantage for the UK to be in the EU.

“If we were external to the EU, we could do quicker and smarter trade agreements that are specific to the UK.”

But Labour election candidate Anneliese Dodds says that Mr Burrage is “Eurosceptic” and that the report is “not a neutral view”.

She added: “The report seems to hang it on the fact that Switzerland has done better than the EU – but lots of their deals were already done by the EU.

“In the Solent area one in four jobs is involved in the maritime sector so it is really important that we have a strong voice in Europe.”