As campaigning takes off for the European Referendum, I have been asked by a number of constituents how I will be campaigning on the issue. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify my position on our membership of the European Union and the reasons I have come hold this view.
I have always been opposed to the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU), and the European Economic Community (EEC) before it, because membership gradually reduces our ability to make our own laws. We have 650 MPs and thousands of councillors up and down the country to do that, but we are all being increasingly impeded in that work.
In 1975 I was a year too young to vote in the only referendum which has been held on our membership of the EEC, as it was then. In that year, a majority voted for what Britons saw as membership of a trading bloc. Since then, the EEC became the EU and much more than an economic bloc – although the No vote campaign in 1975 did predict this would happen. It is therefore overdue that we should have an In-Out referendum.
I will be campaigning and voting to leave, because I believe we can make our own laws, control our own borders and negotiate our own trade deals better than the EU can do for us. Trade, and more specifically jobs, is one of the big issues, and is perhaps the one issue which might scare people into voting to stay in. This is the biggest issue which those advocating leaving must address. And I believe it is easy to do so.
The stay theory goes that we will not be able to export to the EU in sufficient quantities if we leave, and that we would still have to obey the rules of the single market, without being able to influence those rules. To me, this is simply not the case. For example, Taiwan, Indonesia, China, New Zealand, and other countries further afield, are to be able to export to the EU without being members of the single market, and without obeying the rules of that market – so why can’t we?
For example, the EU has just negotiated a free trade agreement with Vietnam (at last!) which will allow for two-way trade. So Vietnam – which is on the other side of the world – will be able to export to the EU, but it’s suggested we – who are 22 miles away from the continent – won’t be able to do so if we come out? This clearly is not an accurate assessment of the situation. Also inaccurate is the Stay campaigns argument on losing investment and jobs. Already, large manufacturers like GE and Toyota have confirmed their intention to continue to invest in the UK, regardless of our membership of the EU. It would be an insult to say that what attracts investment in the UK is our relationship with the EU, rather than our highly skilled workforce and quality supply chain.
An additional point, which is often forgotten, is that other EU countries export far more to the UK than we export to them. We have had a trade deficit with the other EU countries in every single year of our membership bar one (1988, when the pound was kept artificially weak). So, given that trade barriers work both ways, why would those other countries want to erect trade barriers which would prevent them from exporting to us? If such an unlikely situation were to arise, World Trade Organisation rules would actually prevent this from happening. Using trade as just one example, it is my belief that, if anything, there are opportunities to be found in leaving the EU.
Additionally, the possibilities for what we could do with the contributions we pay towards the EU are vast. Leaving would bring £10 billion into the equation, the net amount (the gross amount is approaching £20 billion) we pay to the EU each year, and with it opportunities to use our increased budget on the NHS, Education, Infrastructure, or even to go against the deficit. This is why leaving the EU presents a positive debate of possibilities. To refer again to trade, most of the countries that trade with the EU can do so without contributing £10 billion.
Another important point I would make is on the ability for us to make our own laws. As I have said, even this is compromised by membership of the EU. It may come as a surprise to know that Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg are responsible for more than half of the UK’s laws. This is startling given just how undemocratic the European Union is. For one, between just 2009 and 2014, British MEPs voted against a total of 576 EU proposals, yet 485 still passed and became law. Laws we, here in the UK, are bound by. Our influence in EU decision making is weak, and has become even more so as the EU has enlarged, coming to accommodate more member states and growing in size. When we first joined we had 20% of the votes in the EU Parliament, now we have just 9.5%. To have such little input into laws British people and business are affected by is an unsustainable mode of Governance. Laws being made by people who are completely unknown to the electorate of this country, and cannot therefore be kicked out of office by them, is not only bad for democracy, but causes resentment and disillusionment among our voters.
Finally, the issue of borders and immigration have played a significant role in this debate. The Government has been responsive to calls to bring immigration onto a sustainable footing, but we are limited in how we can do this as a result of EU freedom of movement rules. By no means am I suggesting that we should stop European migration. I fully recognise that many of those who have immigrated contribute greatly to the UK, both through work and in society. Nonetheless, to me, a country’s ability to control its borders is a fundamental and for this to not fall fully into their remit is troubling. If we left the EU we would gain the ability to control our borders again, while still allowing those coming to work in the UK to do so. This also means that both EU and non-EU migrants applying to come to the UK will have equal consideration.
To summarise, I do not believe in isolationist policies. I think we should co-operate closely with our European neighbours on issues such as trade, security, the environment and other areas of policy. I don’t though, believe that we should belong to a club which costs us so much money, makes laws for us in an undemocratic way and takes control of our borders. Fundamental, structural change is needed for the EU to function effectively and fairly, but such change is not even on the agenda, which is why I come to the conclusion I do, that the UK would prosper better outside the EU than we do inside it.
I hope this will clarify my position on the issue. I am happy to hear from my constituents should they want any further information on my position or would like to ask questions on any of the above.