On June 23rd, we will have a referendum on whether or not to leave the EU. This referendum was a manifesto promise made by the Conservatives in the 2015 General Election, which has been delivered within a year. For the first time in my lifetime (I am 39) the public will decide whether we stay in the EU or leave. It is right – and long overdue – that the public make this choice.
It is now up to each and every citizen to make up their own mind. Your vote is worth just the same as the vote I will cast in Coulsdon on June 23rd.
I have been asked quite often what I intend to do. After mulling it over, studying the detail of the negotiation and questioning people (including the Prime Minister and Chancellor) who are familiar with how the EU operates, I have narrowly concluded that for the moment the UK’s best interests are served by staying in.
I know many people who will take the opposite view and feel we should leave now. I completely understand and respect that. My starting position is generally eurosceptic, and I very nearly reached the conclusion myself that leaving now is the best option. There is a lot still wrong with the EU, and a lot that needs to change. But I am prepared to keep trying to achieve this from within the EU for the time being. I’ve grouped my main reasons for reaching this conclusion under five headings below.
Economy and Prosperity
45% of all UK exports go to the EU. Access to a single market of 500 million people is not something that we can walk away from lightly. Given that 45% of our exports go to the EU but less than 10% of EU exports come to the UK we would not be negotiating a new trade agreement from a position of commanding strength. Although it is likely that we could get some kind of trade agreement, we would still have to offer freedom of movement and budget contributions to get full single market access (like Norway). Switzerland has a limited free trade agreement yet was still forced to accept freedom of movement, which it is now trying to extricate itself from. The UK economy is currently prospering in the EU. The uncertainty of Brexit and uncertainty about future trade relations would put a question mark over this.
Influence over what affects us
The EU affects us whether we leave or stay – on things like the economy or migration. If we are in the EU we have the chance to influence what is happening there. To remain part of the single market outside the EU we would have to abide by the single market standards, but have no say in setting them. On issues like economic sanctions on Iran and Russia, the UK has recently led Europe as a member of the EU.
The UK is clearly not now part of the Federalist project
We have already managed to exclude ourselves from the disastrous Euro and Schengen (no borders) arrangements. The new deal explicitly takes the UK out of “ever closer union” and secures protection for the City of London as a Euro financial centre even though it is outside the Eurozone. It has also been agreed that the UK will never be asked to bail out Eurozone countries.
The new “Deal” represents some progress
There is still a lot of reform needed in the EU, but the new deal is a step in the right direction. I have already mentioned removing the UK from “ever closer union” and protection for the City of London. The National Parliament’s Red Card system may help in some circumstances. The restrictions on sending child benefit payments overseas is welcome (although I wish it went further) as are the partial restrictions on in-work benefits for EU workers. EU migrants are already prevented from getting out of work benefits for more than 6 months, after which they are required to leave if they have not found work- There are also new stronger powers to prevent EU criminals from coming here in the first place and to prevent sham marriages to EU nationals being used to circumvent our non-EU immigration controls.
Reform of the EU is not over
The EU needs substantial further reform. I feel that the European Commission and Court intrude into too many areas that should be left up to individual countries and I believe that they regulate too much. But the Prime Minister has committed that further reform will happen, especially by identifying EU powers to return to nation states, by making the EU more competitive by actually reducing rather than always increasing regulation and by completing the single market in services. I will be keenly watching this, and urging the Prime Minister on to seek even further reform. There will be treaty change coming up in a few years, which requires unanimous consent of all 28 countries, and we can also use that opportunity to press for further reforms. Of course, any future attempt to transfer any new power to Brussels is subject to a Referendum Lock under UK law, and we would have another referendum before any such powers could be transferred.
Leaving the EU poses a risk to jobs and prosperity. If we leave, there is no going back. But if we stay and no further reforms are achieved and we do not like the way the EU is heading, we can vote to leave in future. This is something I would be fully prepared to do.
The new EU deal appears that it may give us the best of both worlds. We will be in the parts of Europe that work for us: the single market which makes us more prosperous and co-operation on crime and terrorism which makes us more secure. But we will be out of the parts of Europe we don’t want, such as the eurozone, the borderless Schengen area, a European Army and a European super state. The Prime Minister has moved our relationship with the EU in the right direction and I believe, with some reservations, that for the time being it is in the UK’s national interest to stay in. So I will be voting to stay on June 23rd.