EU Referendum

20th February 2016

The deal is done.  The date is set.  For the first time in 41 years, the British people will have a direct say on our membership of the European Union.  I will be voting for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union and I want to set out why.

Before I do so, I want to explain a little about my political background. 

I am not a supporter of the UK’s closer integration with the European Union.  I opposed our entry into the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1990 and welcomed our departure from it two years later.  I opposed the Maastricht treaty because it moved the EU in a more integrationist direction.  Indeed, I became more actively involved in the Conservative Party in the mid-1990s because I feared the country was going to be subsumed into a closely integrated, federal Europe – a country called Europe – and I wanted to do something to stop it.

So why not take the opportunity to leave the European Union now?

My 1990s viewpoint was inspired by a deep pessimism about the likely nature of our relationship with Europe and the consequences for our economy and society.

I believe as strongly as ever that our membership of a European super-state would be a disaster.  But, in large part thanks to the efforts of Conservative Eurosceptics over many years, that threat is very substantially diminished. 

A single currency has been created but we are not (and will never be) part of it.  Borders have come down – but only amongst the Schengen countries.  Twenty, thirty, forty years ago, major political figures argued that our future was as part of a European super-state.  Whatever the result on 23 June, that argument has been defeated in the UK.

Some EU member states may integrate more closely.  But we will not.  No Euro, no Schengen, a referendum lock giving the British people a further say in the event of more powers being transferred to Europe and, following Friday’s deal, the UK explicitly acknowledged as not being committed to ever closer union.

That does not mean that the European Union is a perfect institution.  Far from it.  But our membership has not developed in the way so many of us feared twenty years ago.  As Friday’s deal makes very clear, membership of the EU does not require us to sign up to some form of integrationist idealism for the European project.

But why not leave anyway? 

To answer that question, it is necessary to be precise about what we might leave – just the EU or also the single market?

If we don’t leave the single market, we are faced with much of the same regulations that cause such irritation.  For that reason, those who favour leaving tend to favour leaving the single market.  I am sure they will make that point explicit during the referendum campaign. 

And what would be the consequences?

In truth, the consequences of leaving are uncertain.  I am sceptical about any statements of complete certainty as to what will happen.  But the risks are clearly considerable.

How quickly would trade arrangements be negotiated with the EU or, indeed, the rest of the world?  What harm could be done to the UK during an interim period that may last years? 

What would be the attitude of the EU in terms of reaching a trade agreement with us?  I agree with those who say their best interests would be served by positive engagement with us.  But it does not follow that that will be the response.

Would a mid-sized UK business exporting to the EU find life harder?

When a multinational business is choosing where to locate its next big investment, would being outside the EU count against the UK?

What would be the impact on the City of London if non-European financial institutions now had to ensure that they had to have a base somewhere within the EU in addition to (or, perhaps, instead of) a London office.

And what would Brexit do for the ability of the West to address threats from Russia and Islamist terrorism? 

What would the impact be on public opinion be on those parts of the EU already struggling to cope with the migrant crisis?  Would Brexit encourage extremist parties in the remainder of the EU?

It may be that none of these issues will prove to be that much of a problem.  But I am far from certain about that.

For example, it is possible that the UK could negotiate a trade agreement with the EU that maintained current levels of access to EU markets without also involving a contribution to the EU budget, compliance with single market regulations and free movement of labour.  Possible but, given that no other country as ever done so, unlikely.

Many of my friends and colleagues will take a different view.  This is an issue on which reasonable people will disagree.  But I believe that the UK’s best interests lie not as part of a European super-state but nor does it involve a leap into the unknown that would be Brexit.  Our country’s best interests are served by backing the Prime Minister’s deal and voting to remain.


I’m not currently a Member of Parliament as Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election on 12th December 2019. This website is for reference of my work when I was a Member of Parliament.

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