LEAVING the EU would harm Brighton and Hove’s £753 million a year tourism industry and the 19,000 jobs it creates, local Liberal Democrats have claimed.

Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats claim that EU membership “crucially bolsters” the city’s tourism sector and warned that the prospect of applying for visas to visit the UK would deter thousands of European tourists from visiting.

A leading local Brexit campaigner has dismissed the warnings as “scaremongering” and “absurd” and said that voting to leave in June's referendum would help increase the city's tourism economy and related jobs.

The Liberal Democrats claim access to the EU single market had resulted in cheaper flights and increased visitors while EU laws reducing mobile phone and data roaming charges made travelling across Europe easier than ever.

The party is conducting a survey of businesses into the benefits of EU membership and the potential risks of leaving the union.

They have been backed in their call by several business figures including former Sussex cricketer Toby Pierce who runs the award-winning Quaff wine merchants, who said Brighton and Hove’s thriving restaurants, bars, hotels, conference facilities and all supplier businesses would be jeopardised by leaving the EU.

He added: “Even those Brighton-based businesses who do not take their income directly from EU-related sources will still rely indirectly on the inflow of tourists.

“In Brighton our connection with Europe is inextricable, why jeopardise all of this by leaving the EU?”

Chris Bowers, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion in 2015, said: “If tourists to Brighton and Hove suddenly needed visas, or had to pay more for their fares or travel insurance, many simply wouldn’t come."

Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats chairman Michael Wilbur said the city’s reliance on tourism was higher than ever and the city needed to attract as many visitors as possible to help make the publicly funded British Airways i360 a success.

Cllr Tom Bewick, Labour councillor for Westbourne ward on Brighton and Hove City Council, said: "These scaremongering tactics are simply absurd.

“The idea Britain outside the EU would not continue to welcome visa free tourist travel to certain citizens of other countries would be to deny economic reality.

“In fact Brighton would probably attract more visitors and money.

"The government crackdown on non-EU migration since 2010 has cut off lucrative visitors and seasonal workers from the commonwealth, as well as tourists from the new powerhouse economies like China and India. "Leaving the EU gives us back control."