I initially published my views on the EU referendum in February, following the Prime Minister’s renegotiation. I have received a lot of correspondence from constituents since then, so I am happy to reiterate my reasons for supporting remaining a Member of the European Union.
I have also received many comments about the conduct of both campaigns, which I am sympathetic to. Understandably the campaign is attracting passion, but I believe some of the personal attacks and the rhetoric used by both sides is proving unhelpful.
I am a member of the Treasury Select Committee, and last month we published a report criticising the Leave campaign for using misleading and incorrect figures and the Remain campaign for failing to provide a clear explanation of the statistics they used, which you can read here.
Prior to the renegotiation, my stance was that I would see the outcome of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation and then decide. I was open to persuasion because although my first instinct is to be Euro-cautious, I could see the economic benefits of the Single Market of 500 million people that we Conservatives helped to create and the extra international influence we gain through the EU.
Following the renegotiation, I believe it is in the UK’s best interests to remain a member of a reformed European Union. I know many constituents will be interested in how I have come to this judgement so I think it is only right I set my reasons out.
In my view there are very clear positive benefits to our membership of the EU. I believe it allows Britain to play a leading role in one of the world's largest organisations, working with our European partners to fight cross border crime and terrorism; giving our businesses access to the Single Market; and providing the British people with more jobs and lower prices. We are also seeing the EU moving in Britain’s direction, with red tape being cut, the abandonment of the concept of an ‘ever closer union’ and massive trade deals being negotiated.
We Conservatives have been rightly complaining about the “superstate of Europe” for some time. Our Prime Minister has come back with a deal which exempts us from “ever closer Union”; a recognition that we can have a different destination to other European nations and that our country “is not committed to further political integration into the European Union”. I think we should recognise that this is a huge achievement. The Prime Minister’s deal gives the UK special status within the EU. We get the benefits of trade and jobs, protecting our economic interest, while not being a part of the centralising agenda that is not right for the UK.
I remain convinced we must never join the Euro and have always believed the Eurozone countries must not be allowed to set the economic framework nor make the economic decisions for the whole EU. This deal has ensured this won’t and can’t happen. This deal gives us the ability to protect the City of London, in particular from more inappropriate regulation and unnecessary interference, with its status as the premier global financial centre. It will also protect jobs in service industries in which we have a surplus with the EU and want to protect.
I know that our country could survive outside the EU. However the uncertainty of leaving the European Union weighs heavily on my mind. We have no idea what out would look like, and different leave campaigners have wildly different views on what it should look like. We could be a member of the EEA like Norway, for example. Whatever happens British businesses will still have to comply with EU rules in order to do business in the EU. Surely we should the greatest possible influence over the composition of these rules if our companies are going to be bound to them?
Moreover, Brexiteers make much of the fact that we would still be part of a trading area from Iceland to the Russian border if we left the EU. While this is true, this is not a tariff free zone and our exporters will face the burden of having to comply to differing both domestic and European regulations to gain access to the market. So we would still trade with the EU, but the costs of doing this would inevitably rise. We would survive outside the EU, but the real question is would we thrive?
In a globalised and interconnected world our country will be affected by many issues that are outside of the control of one Government alone, be it global pollution, the threat from terrorism or the conduct of the world’s financial markets. Therefore, I believe we must continue to work together on these external issues to ensure that the UK can continue to exert maximum influence over how they affect us.
I love the United Kingdom and I do not love the European Union. There is much about the EU that irritates and frustrates me, and there is much I would like to see reformed. I would also accept that the Prime Minister’s deal does not make the EU perfect and I will never say that the UK could not survive outside the EU. However, should we leave a reformed EU which gives us access to the single market and stops ever closer union and political integration out of irritation and pique? I do not think such a move is in our national interest.
This is a long overdue referendum and I believe the question needs to be democratically decided by the citizens of our country. The most important thing in this whole referendum debate is that each voter has the chance to have their own say. I am proud to have voted for the European Union Referendum Act to give each of my constituents a say, and I am delighted that they will all have the opportunity to do so.
I know I will have large numbers of constituents on both sides of the debate, just as I have many colleagues whose views differ on this. This is an issue over which reasonable people can strongly disagree. Personally I believe we will be stronger, safer and better off if we Remain and that is how I shall be voting on Thursday 23rd June.