Standing at the crossroads: is taking the dangerous route worth the gamble?

In or out of Europe – it sounds like a simple choice; a yes or no. However, what do you do if you wanted a return to the original EEC model with trade agreements being the very raison d’être and nothing more? This option is not on the table, so the situation becomes a less clear. Then it becomes a gamble. When answering this question, I did not just have to consider which route I should select to get us to the destination that I believe in but also which route is the best for the country. The most important thing to remember is that this is not a road that just I have to travel on but also our country, our people and our businesses. They will have to weather the storms along the way and climb the hills – so although the destination is important the route is too.

Ideals, dreams and visions are not just noble but necessary. However, they should not be at the cost of our people or indeed our present. As politicians and leaders we must always make sacrifices for the future but we must never sacrifice the present – for it is not ours to give. That is why after much consideration, I have decided that I will vote to remain in the EU. This has been one of the hardest decisions that I have ever had to make because we simply are at a cross roads and no one holds the map for either way. It has been a case of working out the lay of the land, assessing all the possible scenarios of both routes and the risks involved. The trigger to my decision was the recognition of the great pain that the country would probably have to endure in the short term (and potentially even long term) if we left the EU. That is what I mean when I say that we would be sacrificing our present – one where the economy is still fragile from the recession and thus is more vulnerable.


Eurosceptic origins and beliefs

I have always been a Eurosceptic. However, let’s be clear, I have never been a Europhobe. The concept of pursuing trade, economies of scale, peace and security with our European neighbours is a no brainier to me and synonymous with key Conservative principles. I have though spoken out time and time again about the dangers of the pathway to ‘ever closer union’ and a ‘European Super-state.’ I am completely and utterly opposed to any further integration, be it social, political or economic. That is why I was so delighted that David Cameron not only offered each and every one of us a say on our membership but also set out to negotiate the terms of that membership to put a full stop on any chance of the UK being a part of further integration. We now finally have a say over Europe with a referendum, a say that offers an option in the EU with our position safeguarded. It might not be the full package that I wanted, true, but it is far better than what we have and the key win is that we have ensured Britain will not be travelling down the European integration path and the rest of the EU have now formally recognised this.


Your decision

It must be remembered that is not a referendum for politicians but one for people. This decision is not an easy one and will impact upon the lives of every UK resident and for this reason is it is only right and fair that everyone gets a choice. My vote is no more important than yours, this is a decision for the people – for you. My vote is therefore inconsequential in a sense but I do feel that I have a role to advice, to lead and to influence. Why? I hear you ask, given that it is a referendum and everyone can vote? The answer is simple, I have made this decision based not on what I want but what I have assessed to be in the best interests of the nation and my constituency, after conducting one on one meetings with the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Immigration Minister, former Trade Ministers, leading figures in the ‘Out’ campaign and having read a variety of documentation and reports.


Realism and responsibility

The statement ‘with power comes responsibility’ is a truism. I would love nothing more than to dream big and vote for a new and exciting independent United Kingdom. A land where we have full control over our borders, a truly sovereign nation again, a land with improved international trade deals and opportunities. It sounds a dream and yes that is just what it is – Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was on the ball when he talked about utopia being all well and good but the fact is that Europe exists; it is a reality! We cannot just wipe away the slate away and start again, we must work within the circumstances and the situation that we have.

That is why David Cameron’s deal is a good start and I do agree with him that we do need to do more, push more and shape the EU into what we want. Fundamentally though we have to be in the EU to achieve this. The reality is that you cannot change an organisation from outside and so those who want to eventually be in a reformed Europe must vote to stay in, in order to maximise their chance of realising this. When speaking privately to the Prime Minister he stressed how the European mood has been changing, especially amongst the relatively newer countries. This indicates that our reformed package is the beginning. There will be more to come and there is a substantial and growing momentum in the EU for change. The ‘emergency break’ for instance might only last seven years but there is a real desire to change the social benefits systems of the EU, from within the EU. We owe to ourselves to give this a fair shot.


Swimming against the tide

I will let you into a secret, whilst making this decision I have felt very sick, not just because it is a monumental decision but because I felt like I was betraying who I am and the views that I have always held. However, I then sat back and thought, “Did I ever really want to leave Europe?” and “Was this ever really my goal?” The answer to both is ‘NO’ and I am sure that a few of the Out campaigners will probably share that position. I would be so bold as to argue that some of us Eurosceptics who wanted a reformed Europe have been pushed down a stream and out to sea so quick that some of us have only just realised we are missing our life jackets. It is quite surprising that a group of the seasoned ‘In Europe, not run by Europe’ campaigners have been sent down a stream that has led a vast majority to campaign to get out. I can fully understand, empathise and sympathise with this view and must admit I was drawn to this bright big blue alluring ocean.

However, I do urge all to sit back and consider if they have in fact ever really wanted out, or if now they feel that they now have no choice but to get swept away with their Eurosceptics clan. The key point to remember is that everyone has a choice and things are not always as they seem. We can swim against the tide and follow the other route to our chosen destination. I am a Eurosceptic and I am going to vote in! We can channel our Eurosceptism to deliver the Europe we want but most importantly that we need, for our economy and security.


A changing Europe

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary both stressed to me in meetings that Europe is changing and we have a role in that change. For instance, the European civil service is filled with Brussels bureaucrats, not exactly helpful when we want to play an integral role and help steer the ship. British civil servants do not see it as a career enhancer to move to the EU and the posts advertised require applicants to be fluent in French. So we are negotiating the language requirements and enhancing language training, plus making a spell in the EU an important part of a civil servant’s career. If we accept that Europe is changing, then do we not owe it to ourselves to give staying in a shot? We will never get this opportunity again and surely we should exhaust all options before getting out? Should leaving not be the very last resort? David Cameron’s deal might not offer everything but the very fact he got what he did is indicative of the change that is happening. Can you really imagine us getting even half of that 10 years ago? I think not.


A one-way road

I have thought through the ‘ifs and buts’ so many times that my ears have been producing steam! Boris originally argued that we could get out and have another referendum down the line, this is beyond extremely unlikely and that he himself has now ruled out. Anyway by that point the EU will be merrily working without us and have long adjusted to our departure. So, why would they then want to offer a good new package, one that they have never offered other nations and which would undermine the entire EU? They will have survived the tough times after Brexit and we would look likes an embarrassed dog coming back with our tail between our legs. What an image to send to the world! It doesn’t quite smack of the strong and sovereign British nation that the ‘Out’ campaigners envisage. So if we get out then that is it, it is a one-way road – there is no going back – we will be out! I want control back, but I do actually want to still remain in the EU and exiting will not leave the door open for our return.


Why stay in?

I want more than what David Cameron has delivered, it is true and I will not deny it. I want more control over immigration and I want the removal of benefits for EU Migrants for the first four years they are here to be a permanent policy not one at the mercy of Europe with an ‘Emergency break’ guaranteeing only seven years. I want control back on simple but crucial things like full power to control VAT, even on products such as tampons and I want an end to the shackles of an EU around our legs. I want to live in a sovereign country once again that does not throw tax payers money at bureaucracy in Brussels. Yes, I want all this and yes I am voting to stay in! Why? There are two key reasons 1. We must not forget the benefits of being in the EU or get carried away with the myths and misconceptions 2. Most importantly the cost of coming out is too high and will undermine all that we have done to build back up our economy, meaning that the British people will be the ones that pay the price.

The first reason to stay has been almost overlooked by everyone so far. The arguments to stay seem to revolve around the dangers of leaving and we are very much in danger of leading the public to question what the benefits of the EU even are. Do not get me wrong I am far from a fan of the European Union but it is important to stress how it enhances our national security. In fact, the European Arrest Warrant means that we have got 7,000 suspects out of the UK and we have brought back over 1,000 to face justice. EU membership or no EU membership we will of course still be part of NATO and the UN, but we are also living in an era of great international uncertainty with an unprecedented fear of terror threats; we need to strengthen our security relations not weakening them.


Economic benefits

The economic benefits of being in the EU are vast. Europe does help consumers too; driving down costs of flights by 40%, the cost of using a mobile has also gone down by almost three quarters in the last ten years as agreed by the EU and mobile roaming charges will be scrapped completely next year. Over three million jobs in Britain are linked to exports to other EU countries. The EU enables us to trade competitively and means we have free trade deals with over 50 other countries around the world. The European Union helps make it easier for UK business in simple ways for example it is now possible to register a pan- European trademark, instead of having to do the time consuming and costly process 28 times. There has in fact been a big push by the business community for us to stay in.  We saw this recently at the Prime Minister’s announcement at Siemens, Chippenham in my constituency. Leaving will not just impact upon big business, in fact 61% of UK small businesses exports go to the EU and the RSA February survey suggested that as many as four out of five small businesses want to stay in.


The Prime Minister’s deal

The deal that the Prime Minister secured does make Europe more appealing. It might not be everything that we wanted, but it certainly offers us a better and unique deal. It is legally binding and fundamentally it protects us from further European integration. We know that the route of voting in will never lead to a ‘European Superstrate.’ The deal secures the Pound, safeguards our banking system to retain our financial security and protects us from bailing out the Eurozone. It also ensures that British business can never be discriminated against in the Single Market because Britain is not in the Eurozone. The deal will also enable the opening up of the energy market which will bring down costs. It will protect us from unwanted legislation, a new ‘red card’ will mean that parliamentarians will be able to work together to block unwanted legislation from Brussels. In addition, and very importantly, the deal gives a commitment to tearing up the mounds of EU red tape. The deal ensures that every year the European Commission will review how much red tape it is imposing on businesses and if it is too much then we will demand that it is cut.


Immigration

The deal on immigration will put a seven-year emergency brake on welfare benefits for four years. This is not enough for me but we have also agreed that EU migrants working here can no longer claim child benefit at British rates but must claim at local rates which are much lower. There has also been negotiation to ensure that we have new powers to stop criminals coming here and banning them re-entering as well as stronger longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who participate in sham marriages. Crucially, we will crackdown on the bringing of non EU family members into the Britain. We must also remember that David Cameron already managed to ensure that EU migrants can no longer claim Universal Credit while looking for work and those who have not found a job within six months will be required to leave. This will help significantly reduce immigration into the UK given that 40% of migrants who recently arrived here are in households supported by the benefits system. The average claim for a family is £6,000 a year and 10,000 families are claiming over £10,000. Reducing the financial incentive will reduce the pull factors to come to the UK and will change the image of the UK as a ‘soft touch’ and a ‘benefits nation.’ It will also ensure that those that add to our economy still do come. Retaining the free movement will also mean that we do not lose our right to settle in Europe.

In fact, British people are the biggest beneficiaries of the right to re-settle elsewhere in the EU, amounting to about the same amount as all EU nationals in Britain. I will be honest; I do oppose the principle of the free movement of labour across the EU because I believe in one world in terms of immigration. I do not think that it is morally right that someone from for, example an Eastern European country can relocate to the UK when we have no historical or cultural links or ties with their native country yet we deny members of the commonwealth or highly skilled people from other areas of the world.

I believe immigration should be based more on economic requirements of a country and then all other applicants should be treated as equal. However, I am also a realist and understand that it is simply too late to remove the European free movement. Spain has over a million British living there for instance and most are pensioners not working in their economy. The ‘Out’ campaign has yet to let us know what on earth they would do to help secure the lives that these people have carved out in the EU without suffering punitive taxes etc. if we vote to leave. With this in mind we must concentrate on the push and pull factors that cause European immigration, rather than seek to abolish free movement, which is why the Emergency brake will have an impact.

Immigration levels are currently a problem in the UK, I will not deny that, but it is important not to exaggerate EU migration given that only 3.6% of the population is from another EU country. The Foreign Secretary also highlighted to me that our membership of the EU does help reduce the push factors for immigration too because as a union we are working to improve all EU economies. A stronger economy in Poland, for instance, will mean less people will want to leave their home country. An argument that is also being bandied about is that if the refugees into EU nations like Germany (who have taken so many) then become citizens they could then come to the UK under the free movement. This cannot happen given we are not signed up to the Schengen agreement.


European Union – myths and misconceptions

When considering the benefits of the EU we also need to expose the myths and misconceptions about the EU. Commonly purported is that most of our laws come from Brussels. Yes, their legislation can limit us but by looking at all Acts of Parliament and implanting measures passed in the last 20 years, the House of Commons Library found that on average only 14% of Acts relate to the EU.

I believe the cost of the EU is too high but we must not exaggerate it. Government estimate that the EU membership is worth £3000 a year to every British family. The truth is that the budget for the whole EU is 1% of GDP so 2% of our public spending each year. So as much as I want to drive down the cost of the EU and dislike all the waste it entails, it is important to stress that the cost is not as high as the Out campaign would have you believe. Over the seven-year cycle of 2007- 2013 our net annual contribution was about £62 per person. In fact, the UK’s contribution is actually much lower than other similar sized economies such as Germany and France, partly because we get a special rebate, increased by negotiations that David Cameron has had.

Another myth is that EU health tourism costs the NHS billions, the truth is that the cost to other European countries of British people abroad is more than five times the cost to the NHS of treating EU visitors here, saving us £125 million a year. The final big misconception is with the European Court of Human Rights. To be clear the ECHR has nothing to do with the EU this is a separate organisation and discussion. So as much as I will happily bash the EU it is important that we are bashing the actual problems and pushing for reform rather than voting to get out based on misconceptions and myths.


Economic impact of getting out

The second and most important reason to stay in is that the cost of coming out is simply too high and will undermine all that we have done to build back up our economy. This is a monumental decision because it will have a monumental impact – look already at the effect that the referendum has had on the Pound. If we vote to get out the Pound will drop further, the stock market will dive as confidence in the British economy will shake with the uncertainty of it all and how could it not, given that the Out campaign openly says they are unsure as to what will happen. In terms of trade negotiations, I have spoken to current and former Trade Ministers and the same view is echoed – trade agreements cannot be done overnight. Canada is a good example where negotiations have so far taken seven years and are still not complete. This uncertainty will further hinder the economy – is this really a road that we want to go down?


Trade deficit

The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world and we must not forget that. In addition, there is a trade deficit to the EU for goods meaning that we import more than we export to them. This does imply that they need us more than we need them, hence the assumption that they would have to do a favourable deal. However, this is for the EU as a whole. Individually, each country needs us far less, for example, in Germany, the largest economy in Europe the UK’s market share of German imports is just 4.4%. So, with this in mind, ask yourself would Germany weather that storm and look to develop other markets rather than giving into Britain and allowing her to have her cake and eat it? They would know that such a deal would encourage other countries to leave and potentially crumble the EU. Would these EU countries think purely on an economic short term basis or think long term and ensure that Britain did not unpick the EU?

We would only have a two-year period to do the deals before the final exist and there is a strong argument that these countries could stick to their guns longer than we could afford to because the EU as a trading bloc is the UK’s main trading partner worth more than £500bn a year. There may be a trade deficit in goods but we must remember that there are still over 100,000 UK businesses that export to the EU. We also rely on foreign investment and are seen as a part of and the gateway to the European Union, leaving could therefore reduce investment. In addition, half of our foreign investment comes from the EU meaning that they could cause some serious damage. The recent G20 Finance Ministers’ summit in China concluded that a vote out would shock the world economy because we are simply still in recovery. It is therefore not surprising that the Financial Times/ ICSA survey in December last year found that 70% of major businesses expect to experience some or significant damage if we leave the European Union.


Trade Surplus of Services

The UK’s trade surplus in services is another issue that needs considering. It means that we simply could not afford to be waiting long for a deal to be done and the EU know this. So why would they give us a fantastic trade deal without the free movement of labour when they would have the upper-hand and there is no precedent for this? Look at the ‘Norway deal’: they pay roughly the same per head as us to the EU and take twice the level of migrants and do not have any say in decisions. Switzerland on the other hand which took decades to negotiate and yet still takes in three times the level of EU migrants as the UK. If we want to end up in a land with the worst of both worlds, then getting out seems to be the answer!


New trade deals with non EU nations

Deals with the BRIC markets and expanding economies would take considerable time and would require a massive investment of time and civil service work on their behalf. What would the incentive for this be? They would be more likely to just offer us the quicker and cheaper option which would be to keep trading along the lines of the current EU trade deals, meaning that we would be no better off. It is therefore a bleak picture if we get out. Uncertainty will serve to reverse our economic recovery at a time when the economy is still fragile. The truth is that leaving the European Union could mean massive job losses. In fact, over three million jobs in Britain are linked to exports to other EU countries. A vote to leave would more than likely result in a much worse deal in terms of trade or the same deal but having to accept the free movement of people as a condition. Two million jobs have been created under the Conservative Government and the UK’s deficit is down by over a third. We have a long way to go but are we really prepared to gamble our recovery and economy?


An out vote – the route to a bleak broken union

Picture this, we have left Europe, the economy has taken a downturn, unemployment and the cost of living are rising – what would happen? I would think that the public would seek help and hope – which in their desperation could mean false hope and a Jeremy Corbyn led government. I can not even begin to imagine the chaos and problems that would ensue as we revert back to the ‘spend and debt style’ of governance and I not sure we could survive a second round. So leaving the EU at the moment is not a simple route to a strong Britain in fact I would argue it is the route to the opposite destination. All decisions that we make need to be made in the context of the situation that we make them in. Voting out at the moment would have distasteful repercussions given that the economy is still in recovery and is still fragile. It would also undeniably spark the Scottish independence issue again. If Scotland as predicted votes to stay in overwhelmingly, how on earth can we silence their cries for another referendum especially given the number of them now in the House of Commons? The end of the EU could then mean the end Union too, so those voting to leave the EU behind must also be prepared to leave the United Kingdom behind as well.


Unnecessary gamble

If we leave the European Union then the economy would suffer, businesses would suffer, the Union would suffer, but most importantly people would suffer and for what? If we are honest with ourselves, it does not appear there is much incentive to get out. If we suppress our romantic and idealistic notions of a free, bold Britain and sit down and think realistically what is the best option for our country and her people, then staying in is what is best. In the last election the public elected a Conservative Government, data shows primarily because they believed that the Party would look after the economy, act cautiously and not take undue and reckless risks. As an elected Conservative MP I believe that this would be an unnecessary gamble – one that I will not take and one that I urge you not to take.


Real pain for real people versus sentiment and dreams

There is no simpler way to explain my thinking process with this decision than to say the old cliché of ‘with power comes responsibility.’ I mean that in a completely non-patronising way as I respect all opinions but to explain my opinion I must explain my thought process to make this monumental decision. Since being elected I have recognised the huge responsibility placed on my shoulders by the Chippenham constituency. A responsibility to the voters in our area and the country at large. Since May 2015 every decision that I have taken has been based upon what I believe to be best for our nation and my constituents – dogma and ideals have always been secondary. It is for this reason that I am comfortable and believe in my decision with all of my heart. A decision based not on some heart felt attachment to the notion of sovereignty or a dream of big bold Britain but on what I honestly believe is best for our country and her people. It is the sad reality that politics and power coincide with responsibility and realism but I would rather that than shout utopia from the side-lines or offer false hope to a nation looking for guidance.

The exciting and alluring choice is to get out but the short term pain would be felt by British people and there is a strong chance it could cause long term pain. This pain would affect real people, real lives and yet this pain need not be inflicted, we can still vote to stay. It would push the hardworking people that I pledged to support to the job centre. Real people – real lives. This is not a ‘fear tactic’ but a ‘facts tactic’. If you are not convinced then ask an ‘outer’ for the amount of job losses, the eventual outcome and details on the promised long term economic benefits. I am sure that the answer will be that they simply do not know, yet the odds on all these things are against them. So consider the question, is this really worth risking the livelihoods and economic security of your family, friends and indeed yourself?


Give reform a chance

It has been suggested that if the result is to stay in then this issue will be put to bed for a generation. I disagree profusely with this. Now is our opportunity to reshape, push and create the Europe that works for us; but from within. If this does not happen then we can address our membership again in the future. We owe it to ourselves to give reform a chance. There is often talk about us losing our bargaining power if we stay in, as the trump card will have been played i.e. the threat to get out. Surely this overlooks the fact that if we leave then we have completely lost our bargaining power all together. It is important to stress that it is far easier to try to reform Europe from within than try to get back in once we are out.


Voting with a full and committed heart

I originally thought that I would be voting with a heavy heart to stay in the EU but actually I will be voting with one that is strong and determined to stand up for the long term safeguarding of our country, economy and people. So, it is actually with a full and committed heart that I will vote to stay in the European Union and I urge all British people to vote for jobs, growth and a better and brighter future with the UK in a reformed EU. An ‘Out’ vote is a massive gamble and I for one will not gamble our country. I will not play poker with the lives and livelihoods of our people – the stakes are simply too high. I believe that I was elected to make responsible decisions and put our country’s interests first and not dogma and sentiment. We are at crossroads and the route out offers pain and problems too big and too unknown for my conscience or sense of logic to choose.

I respect all views in this campaign, the choice is difficult and the information can be conflicting. I want to stress though that I am not abandoning the Eurosceptic ship by voting in just choosing what I believe to be the best route to the destination of a reformed EU. I no longer feel sick about the decision but I do feel sick at the thought that we could leave and the problems that this would cause, the jobs that would be lost, the loss of the European Union membership benefits and the cost that would fall on the UK residents. I will be voting to stay in and I will remain committed to the best interests of our country, so if we remain in then I will keep pushing for further European Union reform.

This is a decision for the people – a decision for you. So, I leave you with one question to ask yourself – are you happy to play poker with your country’s future?