For the past few months many of you have asked repeatedly how I will vote in the EU referendum. My response, enigmatically perhaps, but accurately, has been ‘hopefully to remain but probably to leave.’ Having reserved my counsel until the details of what we will actually be voting on have been made clear, my ‘status’ has now changed to ‘regretfully not to remain, definitely to leave.’
This is a decision I have not taken lightly. It was never a foregone conclusion. I have long believed that the EU could be a force for good in the world. Collaborating closely together we could advance in an increasingly competitive world, securing a greater share of global prosperity to benefit not just the UK but all 500 million residents of the EU’s 28 nations. Following the UK’s successful track record of deregulation and liberalisation Europe’s influence throughout the globe could have stolen a march on our competitors.
I still believe this could be the case. As co-Chairman of the Fresh Start Group of Conservative MPs campaigning for a reformed Europe, I have visited over a dozen European capitals meeting MPs, MEPs and ministers. We have witnessed at first-hand how many of them are not happy with the way the EU is going and we have produced detailed research to show what reform is practical and possible. Alas when challenged to walk the walk, it has become clear that our European partners are not prepared to challenge the status quo. Ultimately they have a different vison of Europe. We have spent 43 years since joining the then EEC tantalised by the prospect of what such a vision might be. How much longer do we need to wait? I believe it is time now to come to terms with what needs to be. That is why I shall be voting ‘Leave’ on June 23rd.
For me, the renegotiation discussions are not primarily about the UK’s future relationship with the EU. It is more fundamental than that. It is about the sustainability and indeed survivability of the EU itself as we know it. Even the most dogged Europhile must admit that the EU just is not working properly. As Europe’s biggest Euro cheerleader of all, Angela Merkel has spelled out the EU accounts for 7 per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of the world economy (and falling) but 50 per cent of global social welfare spending. From being the world’s largest trading bloc, we are on course to becoming the third behind the US and China, or fourth if you include Commonwealth countries. We are going backwards and that is just not sustainable.
The IMF confirms that the EU’s share of the world economy has fallen from almost a third 35 years ago to barely a sixth now. Whilst the rest of the world comes to terms with the uncomfortable realities of austerity and living within our means, the EU behemoth spends more, pays itself more. An ever expanding army of now 33,000 unelected bureaucrats spends an equally expanding amount of time sitting round tables in Brussels designing regulations that too often make it more restrictive and expensive for our companies, especially small companies, to do business and get on with competing on the world stage. Even within the EU’s borders themselves the single market that promised so much and enthused Mrs Thatcher back in the 1980s remains incomplete and illusory. Even technology has not helped. Only 11 per cent of internet shopping in the EU, for example, is between different EU countries.
There are two huge crises facing the EU at the moment. One is the fragility of the Euro and the Euro project and the second is immigration. Countries like Greece and Portugal are held afloat by wholescale transfer of resources from Frankfurt to Athens and Lisbon, with Brussels taking a cut on the way. In return there has been a wholescale transfer away of sovereign powers to control the levers of their own economies in those countries, with their citizens or ministers they democratically elect having little say in the matter.
The second crisis is the even more stark tragedy that remains the inexorable flood of refugees and economic migrants into the EU from across the Mediterranean. Schengen, Dublin and numerous EU protocols have been trashed underfoot literally by the chaos that has engulfed the Continent and hastily re-erected barbed-wire fences thwart the EU’s founding principle of free movement of labour. Its disproportionate impact on Greece and Italy in particular has given rise to huge international tensions whilst thousands of displaced people with little claim to reside in the UK have been brought to within 20 miles of our borders in the ‘Jungle’ at Calais.
These two things alone threaten to undermine the whole European project. Yet the 34-page communique issued by blurry eyed European leaders in Brussels late on Friday night has absolutely nothing to say on these issues. It is true that the Prime Minister has done well to win safeguards about how the UK as one of nine non-Euro countries cannot automatically be steamrollered by the majority Eurozone bloc. But it does nothing to make the Euro any less unpalatable or sustainable for those countries who continue to use it.
It is also true that we have temporary arrangements which may deter the small minority of EU citizens who come here primarily to take advantage of our generous benefit regime. But that is completely irrelevant to the displaced non-EU residents now living within the EU’s borders That is unless and until of course Germany issues many of them with passports entitling them to travel freely to the UK to take advantage of the same benefits as Germans born with a German passport.
Indeed the whole mood music of the renegotiation has been that this is the latest example of the UK playing up and we will indulge you one last time to maintain the status quo and leave the course of the EU train/supertanker/vision/illusion unaltered. The response to David Cameron’s robust renegotiation stance should have been – ‘thank goodness the UK has been brave enough to say it like it is. The EU needs to wake up, smell the coffee and institute far more reaching reforms than even the Prime Minister is asking for if we are to have a future.’
In reality it was nothing of the sort. So why would we want to continue to shackle ourselves to an institution that is in denial and increasingly being left behind the rest of the world? In short, at this critical moment the EU has dodged the important questions fundamental to its whole viability. We can no longer afford to be part of that dodge.
The Prime Minister is to be praised on what he has achieved. Within 14 months of the election of a majority Conservative Government he will have delivered a straight Leave/Remain referendum on our future in Europe giving the final say to 45 million electors not 650 MPs. Even Mrs T did not offer that.
The reforms he has secured do amount to a repatriation of powers to the democratic accountability of the British Parliament. But too many of them are temporary, not legally binding, open to interpretation and challenge and the EU machine will effectively carry on regardless. What hasn’t been mentioned so far is what is not in the package. The Fresh Start Group Manifesto for Reform set out many areas of necessary and achievable reform. Yet the PM’s deal does not even mention repatriation of social and employment laws, reform of Regional Development Policy, reform of the Common Fisheries Policy let alone the Common Agricultural Policy which alone consumes some 33 per cent of the whole EU budget.
We will not get a second shot at this if there is a Remain vote on June 23rd. The deal cannot get any better and in any case there are serious question marks about whether it would survive a veto by the European Parliament the other side of a referendum. To those who say the UK is better off pushing for change inside the EU tent the sad reality is that we have been outvoted every one of the 72 times we have objected to an EU rule change in the Council of Ministers, 40 of them under David Cameron’s premiership.
So now we face four months of intensive debate ahead of the June 23rd vote. I would urge all constituents to engage with the debate as much as possible. This is the most important constitutional issue to effect the UK since the last referendum which voted by 2-1 to stay in the EEC in 1975. This will be a once in a generation opportunity. The result must be binding and irreversible. The UK has had an uneasy relationship with Europe for much of our 43 years of membership. This referendum must resolve that once and for all and we must quickly accept and adapt to the consequences whether it is to remain in the EU or go it alone.
But of course we will not be ‘going it alone.’ Just under 7 billion of the world’s 7.4 billion population lives outside of the EU. For most of our history before the EU had even been invented we prospered, and we can do so again. The transition to a non-Euro sovereign state will not be easy and will take several years of turgid negotiation. It doesn’t all happen automatically the day after a ‘Leave’ vote. It will affect many aspects of our everyday lives but it can be done. Above all the debate leading up to the Referendum vote must be measured, well informed, respectful and not reliant on scaremongering. While I fundamentally disagree with the Prime Minister’s recommendation for a ‘Remain’ vote and his interpretation of what or future in the EU holds, I completely respect his commitment to doing what he thinks is best for Britain and admire the way he has battled for Britain to secure a once unimaginable deal.
Caricaturing a ‘Leave’ vote as a giant leap into the dark enlightens nobody. We owe our constituents a much more informed and grown-up debate and for my part I will be holding a series of public meetings around the constituency to keep local people engaged as much as possible. Now that it is the people who have the power to make this historic decision, it is vital that the people are as well informed as possible and can make a well-reasoned judgement on where to place their vote. It is my hope that we can inspire the level of engagement that invigorated the people of Scotland to participate in the independence referendum and to turn out to vote in record numbers.
Those of us on the ‘Leave’ campaign will be making a positive case for what a Britain outside the EU can look like. We have one of the most respected and least corrupt judicial systems in the world, emulated by many, but it increasingly has to look over its shoulder to see what the European Court will allow it to do. Why cannot it stand up for itself truly independently with judges interpreting laws made by politicians who can be sacked by the public? I have never lacked confidence in the UK to be a world leader in economic and social reform, innovation, invention and culture. Surely that leadership can only be liberated and invigorated when we do not have to second guess how far the EU or its multifarious and opaque institutions will allow us to achieve?
NATO will remain the guardians of our security with its wider circle of allies – that was never a job that we looked to the EU to perform. We will continue to work with Europol on matters of common interest on crime and terrorism just as the current agreements allow 18 non-EU members to do including the US, Russia and Turkey.
To those who say that a vote to ‘Leave’ is backward looking and irresponsible, I say that a vote to free ourselves from the colossus that the EU has become is exactly where the world is, and should be, heading. Increasingly young people do not see why large centralised state structures need to be in control of so many aspects of our lives. That is the reality of what our vibrant young people think in the twenty first century. The fact that the turnout for European Parliamentary elections is typically 25 per cent lower than for national parliamentary elections across Europe underlines how remote our EU institutions have become for many people.
To a young person setting up home today it is inconceivable that when I was doing the same back in the 1980s I had no choice but to pay the Government for my electricity supply, water, air tickets and telephone and had to go on a long waiting list for the privilege of just getting connected. Most civilised countries have moved away from such an all-encompassing centrally controlled structure yet ironically the EU has moved in just that opposite direction. At a time when ‘localism’ is all the rage the distant EU bureaucrats can stick their noses into even the smallest procurement programme by our local councils, or the size of the font on a chewing gum wrapper. Surely we need a much more progressive alternative to that? It is the EU which has become a throwback to the way the world did things badly in the past.
Moulded in the context of a Continent which was piecing itself back together again after horrors of world war and facing the looming threat of the Cold War, the institution that has become the EU is sadly now an anachronism, unable and unwilling to adapt to the expectations of 500 million people in 2016.
Finally, if as I hope we vote to ‘Leave’ on June 23rd, it is the day after that when the real negotiations start. When you sadly break up with someone you may think you have done talking but this is when all the negotiation actually takes place over the specifics of who gets the CD collection. Just because the 28 becomes 27 does not mean that the EU no longer exists – far from it. But there can be no doubt then that the UK has been serious in our reasons for doubting the benefits of the EU and a different relationship has to be formulated. There will be absolutely no prospect of a re-vote until we get it right, as Ireland and France had to be suckered into doing.
Again I would urge the scaremongers to desist from promulgating misleading stories about British jobs being at risk as our former partner throw up trade barriers. As it stands we have a £60 bn trade deficit in the EU’s favour. Who stands to lose more if we can no longer trade freely with them? Indeed terms of trade will change but it need not drastically be to our detriment. Outside the EU the UK would become the EU’s largest trading partner worth 21 per cent of their exports. Are they really going to trash the CD collection just to spite us?
In the same vein, many multinational companies who have invested in the UK and produce a substantial amount of cars, pharmaceuticals or financial products here have said they would be able to adapt to whatever new framework evolves. Outside the EU, Switzerland sells four and a half times more goods per capita to the EU than the UK does inside the EU. They have voted repeatedly for a ‘leap into the dark’ by staying outside the EU but have somehow deftly avoided the abyss we are told we face.
So if there is to be a parting of the ways, then let’s work to make it as amicable as possible. Just as with the ending of a marriage, the partners may get divorced but the kids don’t. Just because we no longer live at the same address and our career paths are heading for different destinations it does not mean that our children do not need nurturing as much as before. As the former Children’s Minister you might expect me to make that analogy!
For kids read security and shared prosperity as the Prime Minister has quite rightly prioritised. It is just that I take the view we can achieve that even better outside the EU. I look forward to making that case strongly over the coming months and engaging with all my constituents on this vital issue. I very much hope you will be part of this debate.
( Tim Loughton is MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, a former Minister for Children and Families and Co-Chairman of the Fresh Start Group of Conservative MPs)