Now that the Prime Minister has concluded his renegotiation of the UK’s terms of membership of the European Union and set the date for the referendum, I think it prudent to make a formal statement on the issue and my decision on how I will vote at the referendum on 23rd June.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for delivering the manifesto pledge on which I was re-elected for the third time to represent the people of the Peterborough constituency last May, that is an undertaking to have a proper debate after a renegotiation process and to trust the people with a vote on the UK’s membership of the EU for the first time in over 40 years.
The referendum will be settled by the people and not by a vote of the House of Commons, so my vote carries the same weight as that of any other eligible elector in Peterborough or any other part of the country.
I have always taken a broadly Eurosceptic view on our relations with the European Union. However, Europe and the EU are not the same and I believe the UK (as the 5th biggest economy in the world) is a proud, outward looking, global trading nation which desires cordial even friendly relations with our friends and partners in Europe, in or out of the political creation that is the European Union (formerly the EEC and Common Market). I have however consistently opposed the UK’s membership of the Single Currency (defying party policy at the time), voted against EU budgets in the last Parliament and also resigned as an aide to a Cabinet Minister in 2011, in order to vote and campaign for the plebiscite we are now having.
Deciding whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the EU or should part company is the biggest strategic question this country has faced for a generation. It involves a weighing-up of many different considerations: costs and benefits, risks and opportunities. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to settle the Europe Question once and for all and that decision to be made in the best long-term interests of the country; it must not be focussed upon current short-term issues or other political calculations. It is a decision which will be made by heart as well as head and one which cuts across usual party lines and this must not be a referendum on whether the country likes the Government or believes that the Prime Minister should have adopted a different negotiating strategy. We now have a deal on the table and we have to decide if remaining in Europe on these terms is in the country’s best interests; or do we think that potential benefits and risks or leaving are worth it.
Like many Conservative MPs, I wished the Prime Minister well in his negotiations with the other EU states and kept my own counsel, hoping that he would make good the pledges he made for comprehensive and far reaching changes in our relationship with the EU at the Bloomberg speech in January 2013. I believe Mr Cameron sincerely sought these changes but the recent EU summit has merely demonstrated that the EU is not willing to reform itself in a way which I believe is both beneficial and desirable to secure it’s long-term future and that its leaders remain wedded to a bureaucratic, sclerotic, political behemoth, disdainful of popular democratic accountability and national sensitivities, hurtling towards greater and ever closer economic and political union, unconcerned at the serious and profound reservations of the British people and their representatives.
In my opinion, the European Union has already inflicted huge damage on the economies of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, in the pursuit of monetary dogma and ideological obsessions, driven by the mania of a single currency operating across a hugely disparate and discrete economic area, primarily at the behest of the Germans.
The EU is in truth a concept whose time has come and gone – an anachronism. Within 20 years, the EU will, in any case, account for less than one on six dollars of world trade. Meanwhile, the UK is running a trade deficit of £59 billion since 2009 with the EU but a massive surplus with the rest of the world, whose markets we cannot truly exploit because we are locked into EU trade agreements rather than our own bilateral agreements with places like China, Mexico, Brazil, India, South Africa and Canada – markets which would generate British jobs and prosperity.
The negotiations have been a failure. The process has been a depressing one and an historic opportunity for proper reform has been lost, perhaps forever. David Cameron asked for very little and didn’t in truth even receive that. Any changes grudgingly given have been trivial.
We have not only failed to abide by our manifesto promise on restricting child benefits and the details of the compromise put in its place lack clarity but the “red card” policy on sovereignty is unworkable, no significant powers have been repatriated to the House of Commons, the European Court of Justice still takes precedence over UK law, there is no guarantee that UK’s demands or “exceptions” will be incorporated in any new Treaties and crucially, the whole deal is legally unenforceable.
My decision on June 23rd won’t be about facts and figures alone, although they’re important: £500 billion paid by the UK to the EU since 1973 – 3 times the annual budget of the NHS. £350 million a week – which we could focus on our own priorities – housing, schools, mental health, the science budget? Why do British businesses shoulder the burden of £600 million per week in EU regulations?
This debate however will be about the country we are and want to be – not about numbers on a spreadsheet. We are not only the fifth largest economy in the world. We are a member of the G7. We have permanent seat at the UN Security Council, a key member of NATO and project soft power across the globe as a nuclear power. We have historic influence and trading links with the Commonwealth and a special relationship with the United States. We are a global player and can thrive, not just survive, outside the EU. We would be good neighbours with Europe and will co-operate with them, whether that be on economic or security matters. They sell more goods to us than we do to them. Of course, they are going to want to be on good trading terms. Similarly, on security issues are they seriously going to compromise their own safety by refusing to co-operate with us?
Economic and security links, of course, extend far beyond the borders of Europe. Does Britain need to be part of the EU to punch above our weight on the global stage? I do not believe that EU membership is a precondition to us having a significant influence in the world. What is to stop us joining forces with the EU on an issue where it is in our mutual interests to do so? In global realpolitik we have significant clout as a sovereign independent nation and, arguably, being separate from the monolithic EU bloc, prioritising British interests. The main determinant of our future economic performance is not surely our membership of the EU but the extent to which we continue to follow globally competitive policies?
For many, immigration is an important factor in the European debate. I accept that one of the reasons we have seen high levels of immigration in recent years is that our economy has been strong and that we have an insufficient number of indigenous people with either the skills or willingness to fill the vacancies. But the Peterborough constituency has borne a very heavy burden in uncontrolled EU migration since 2004 and the huge and unprecedented impact that this has had on the delivery of public services like education, health and housing has been very acutely felt by many of my constituents. They have seen the real impact of globalisation and the Free Movement Directive, including slum housing, low wages, welfare and health tourism and people trafficking and many have concluded that it is imperative that the UK controls its own borders and who comes to the country and for what reason and that furthermore, such an aspiration is impossible within the EU now and at any time in the future.
We must have a greater national control over the numbers of people who want to come to this country, and the conditions under which they are allowed to come. Peterborough has welcomed thousands of migrants over the years and we have been a nation of immigrants and emigrants throughout our history. Regrettably, the EU has set its face against the UK controlling its own borders and we’re told repeatedly that the principle of free movement of people within the borders of the EU is sacrosanct.
We have also been told for 40 years by the political elite, the City, media, the Establishment and the snobby intelligentsia which looks down on so many “ordinary” voters, that we must stay “at the heart” of the EU to fight our corner and reform from within. That is a fool’s errand: There is no appetite whatsoever, even when it sits on the cusp of irrelevance and disaster, for the EU elite to tackle the fundamental reforms demanded by the people for whom they are so estranged. Trying to reform from within has been a calamitous failure. Quite simply, the EU doesn’t care.
So what will “Brexit” look like?
UK law will be paramount and not that of the European Court of Justice. Our Parliament. Elected by the people, will be sovereign. We will take back immigration policy, which will be focused on British priorities and a tough but fair approach to migrants. We will make trade treaties with many countries across the world, unencumbered by the EU’s tariffs and delays and bureaucratic compromises and companies like JCB and Nissan will continue their record inward investment in the UK because of its benign business regime – low taxes, labour mobility, the English language, stability, the rule of law . We will have billions each year to spend on our own domestic priorities.
The referendum on 23rd June will be about the people of this country. Their voices will be heard for the first time in a generation. It won’t be about Boris Johnson or David Cameron or Nigel Farage or Jeremy Corbyn. It will be about freedom, democracy, giving the British people more power, saving their money and a better deal for Britain. It will ultimately be the answer to the question: “Who governs Britain?”
All power is a leasehold given to us on trust and it is not ours to give away. For too long we’ve been selling the family silver and traducing our own sovereign Parliament and its powers. I trust my constituents with this decision and I will respect their choice. I also respect those who have a different view but I have myself concluded that there is a positive, outward looking and optimistic case for the European Union and the United Kingdom to part company and for us to leave the EU.
As such, I will be enthusiastically campaigning to leave the European Union and urging my constituents in Peterborough to do the same.