June 2, 2016
I am frustrated by the EU. In my maiden speech in the House of Commons eleven years ago, I argued that the EU was “too elite and too remote” and ”must prove its value to a new generation”. It has not succeeded in that challenge. It remains flawed. However, when faced with the stark choice of Remain or Leave, I will be voting to Remain. Why?
The bottom line is that I see too much risk in the Leave option. Those arguing for change on this scale have not given me a clear enough view of what our future outside would be like. It feels like a leap in the dark. There is general agreement that us leaving the EU would cause uncertainty and instability for a period. There needs to be a very clear upside to compensate – and I cannot see it. A lot of jobs seems to depend on us continuing to have tariff free access to the single market of 500 million people where almost half of our exports go – but those arguing for Leave seem very confused about a future UK strategy on this critical point. I am confident we could make it on our own but I fear that we would lose influence and be less attractive as a place to invest.
Immigration is an important part of this debate. I am one of those who believe that controlled immigration is good for the country, and I support freedom of movement. However, I recognise that many constituents are very concerned that we are losing control. I am pleased that we have the opt out from the so called Schengen borders free zone: that gives us more power to control our borders. I also support the efforts of the Government to crack down on abuse of free movement and reduce benefits available to EU migrants. The Leave Campaign is claiming that leaving the EU would mean we could end freedom of movement. It is clear to me that this is not possible without giving up full access to the free trade single market. I do not think that is a price worth paying, given the predicted impact on our economic future. Leaving the EU would make no difference to the numbers of people coming to the UK from outside the EU . The only difference is that our current borders treaty would almost certainly be scrapped if we left the EU , meaning our main border with Europe would be Dover and not Calais.
I also see some positives in our membership of the EU, alongside the value of the Single Market to jobs and prices. There is strength in numbers when it comes to making progress on the really important cross border issues; whether it be counter terrorism or climate change. The EU has bound together old enemies and so has been a genuine force for peace. I consider myself an environmentalist, and believe that EU regulation has been a force for good in driving up standards of environmental protection. Like many constituents, I also like the ability to move around Europe for work or play with the minimum of hassle.
As far as I can see, we are now in a decent position. Full member of the valuable single market but outside the Euro. A powerful voice in the EU but exempt from the move to “ever closer union”. Some people fret about us losing control but only 13% of our laws come from Brussels, and we continue to take most of the big decisions that shape our lives.
So I can live with the devil we know – as long as we are clear that more reform is necessary to make the EU work better, and prove its value to a new generation. Rather than quit, I want to see the UK at the table shaping that reform and pushing for change.
This is ultimately a question about what kind of country we are. I believe that we should remain the outward looking country we always have been , and resist the calls for isolationism. I also want us to remain the United Kingdom, and do not want to give the SNP any reason to call a second referendum on Scottish Independence.
So I am “In”.
Whatever the view you end up with I do urge you to get involved. It is a very big decision about the future prosperity and security of our country.