“Politics is a messy business”, said Edmund Burke. Few quotes could be more appropriate to the complex arguments and difficult decisions that feed into this year’s EU referendum.
To say that I have thought long and hard about this would be an understatement. Changing Britain’s relationship with Europe was one of the things that fired up my interest in politics, it is something that has been a constant of my political career from my first days as a volunteer. I remain a Euro-sceptic, questioning the so called “project” and keen to assert the UK’s sovereignty, our ability to make our own decisions. However, in this referendum, which I am proud to have played a part securing, I will be voting to remain.
My decision is my own and each of my individual constituents of voting age will have the opportunity to make their minds up for themselves but I feel as a representative, and as someone who worked hard to secure the referendum, it is only right that I should explain.
Many factors feed into this. Britain’s place in the world is one and I have always said that I am an internationalist, the economy is another and both sides in the debate have made claims with which I disagree, but this must surely be a crucial factor. Sovereignty and the ability of our country to get is way is a third and this is where the Prime Minister’s negotiation can play a crucial role. Security and our ability to control our borders is an important factor but by no means the only one. Finally, the very nature of Europe, that grand project which has changed so much during my lifetime and is changing still.
But most importantly of all for me, I am MP for a place I love and care about. My vote will be determined most of all by the place that I represent and the impact that I feel leaving or staying would have on Worcester.
Britain’s global advantage
Britain is one of the best placed countries in the world when it comes to international networks and international reach. Through our maritime history, our language and our cultural and legal legacy we have a network in every continent of the world. We have been, since the sixteenth century at least, a global trading nation. As each decade passes and the world becomes a smaller place, the advantages of this grow. Anyone who tells you the UK is no longer a major power is lying. We are the fifth largest economy in the world with a soft power network that even the Americans and the Chinese envy. Crucially we are the country in the continent of Europe that attracts the most outside investment and that invests the most in the wider world. Much of this could be a seen as a good argument for Brexit and I will admit that there have been times when I have argued that case.
However, experience has taught me otherwise. Having met with business people, politicians and trade organisations from around that wide world, having discussed with them their relations with Britain and their views on our relationship with the EU, it is clear to me that we are best placed to help our friends in the wider world as an active member of the EU.
Our Commonwealth network is an increasingly valuable one in the Twenty First century as the developing world catches up with the developed. I have spoken up in Parliament for more trade with the Commonwealth and I profoundly believe that it is in our interest to nurture this, but every Commonwealth country with whom I have discussed the issue wants Britain’s help to gain access to the markets of Europe. Our transatlantic alliance has been one of the crucial bulwarks of democracy since the Second World War but the US is unequivocal that they want the weight of our arguments in the EU rather than outside it. Our links with Asia and Africa are strong and growing but each aspirant country in those markets values Britain partly as a gateway to a wider European market. As the most outward looking country in Europe they all see part of our role in opening up the opportunities of Europe to our friends and allies beyond and if we can succeed in playing that role, as we have in the past, then we can be of greater value to them.
To give a local example when Yamazaki Mazak, a privately owned Japanese company, was seeking to locate its European Headquarters in the early 1980s they chose between a number of different locations in France, in Belgium and in Worcester. They decided on Worcester in the end because Britain was a more business friendly jurisdiction and had the advantage of the English language, but they decided, as a Japanese company, to invest here as a gateway to Europe and to this day 85% of the machine tools they produce in Worcester are sold into Europe. They are clear that they wouldn’t want us to leave but, just as importantly we are able to attract more investment from them and from like-minded companies by staying and fighting our corner.
Global free trade deals always seem to have been just over the horizon and endless acronyms appear and disappear from one decade to the next – GATT, TPP, TTIP, CETA to name but a few. The UK has always been a champion of the freer trade that creates wealth and eliminates poverty. However our ability to free up trade is on balance greater with the weight of the European market behind us. Quite apart from the benefits of the single market in Europe, to which I will return in the economy section.
Moderate politicians have for too long neglected to defend the real benefits of freer trade which were once considered unarguable and as a result potential extensions of free trade such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – TTIP for short, have been able to be defined by their enemies on the far right and the far left rather than their advocates. Much nonsense is talked about this deal being a threat to public services when it is absolutely clear that public services have been exempted from it. What it would do is to open up the vast markets of America to trade with the EU and vice versa. When detailed research was done about which countries stood to benefit the most from that, the answer, perhaps not surprisingly was that those at Europe’s Western fringe. Which country stands to benefit the most? The United Kingdom. When I served on the BIS Select Committee, we did a detailed inquiry into TTIP and amongst the evidence we were given was research showing that Britain could gain as much as 9.7% on GDP, around four times as much as France and double the benefit to Germany from TTIP. If we are to stay in the EU then we should be an unashamed champion of such free trade deals with the wider world and Britain’s historic role as a trading nation can continue. It was good to see the Prime Minister talking at the end of his negotiation about the need for more free trade deals with the Commonwealth, China and America and I will be doing all I can to push for these in the years to come.
Can Britain survive outside the EU? For all the reasons set out above, of course we can. I have no doubt whatsoever that we can continue to be a strong global player in our own right even if people chose to leave, but the question for me is where are we best off and where do we have the best opportunity to help ourselves and our friends and that, I believe is by staying in.
The Economy, competitiveness & regulation
In this country more than any other, the arguments about Europe have often revolved around its economic benefits or dis-benefits. On the one had we were sold the project in the first place on the idea of the free market and many UK companies will argue for Europe on the basis of the scope it offers to trade and do business. On the other we are bombarded with stories on ludicrous regulations, red tape and bureaucracy which make us less competitive. We are sometimes also told of vast net contributions which disappear from our Treasury or millions of jobs at risk if we leave. I believe both the latter are exaggerations.
The Single Market in goods and services is both impressive and incomplete. Where it works it definitely does offer real value to UK businesses but there is more work to do in improving the digital single market, the single market for financial services, particularly for non-Eurozone countries to sell into the Eurozone and to deal with the challenges brought about from the free movement of people, to which I will return later, but which, we have to recognise is a key part of the whole. UK businesses will tell you that they do indeed value the opportunity to sell into a market of half a billion people without tariffs or multiple rules and, as I have already argued, it makes our country more attractive to investors from further afield. There is of course a totally valid argument about the extent to which we would be able to access this market in any case from outside the EU.
With a single market however come the common rules and this is where many of us have been critical of Europe. Famously ludicrous regulations such as the ban bendy bananas and attempts to ban eggs by the dozen do nothing for the credibility of the EU but they are just the icing on the cake. Serious business organisations argue that there are real costs to the thousands upon thousands of regulations that the EU produces and the UK’s unfortunate habit of gold-plating some of these, can make these costs even higher. Open Europe, a Eurosceptic think tank, estimated that there are £33 billion of costs from EU regulation.
The question has to be however whether we are better off trying to change this from the inside or walking away? To walk away would not mean an end to all regulations of course, but a detailed debate over each one and whether the UK would be better of setting a different standard and losing access to the Common Market or simply going along with what Europe does. As Norway and Switzerland have found, it is more likely that we would opt for the latter.
Our Prime Minister has made a focus on competitiveness and deregulation a central plank of his negotiation strategy and it appears to have struck a chord in Europe. More-so than some other elements of his strategy, the drive to deregulate and to remove red tape has been embraced by a number of other nations that feel the same way as we do. UK advocacy has helped to change the mood music when it comes to regulation and there is a real danger that without our being there to say so, less open minded countries could turn the argument back in the other direction. Even the bendy banana rule was scrapped in 2008.
There are many in the Brexit camp who argue that we can have all the benefits of the single market with none of the costs by leaving the EU and negotiating a free trade agreement. This is on the surface a fair point and, as it is true that the EU area sells more to us than we sell to them, it is certainly the case that it would be in their interests to keep trading with the UK. However the experience of countries that have done this has not been great. Norway and Iceland end up accepting the vast majority of EU regulations without having any say over them. Switzerland, rich though it is, is finding that in order to maintain free trade with Europe it is having to give ground on more and more of its differences. Despite the “fog in the channel, continent cut off” cliché, Britain has shown time and time again our ability to change the weather in Europe. Most businesses that do a substantial amount of their business there want us to have a voice at the table. If we can do so in a way that supports our interests and theirs, we should benefit from it.
The argument about net costs is a tougher one. It is true that as one of the richer EU nations the UK makes a net budget contribution. As our economy has been growing faster than others in Europe, that has been increasing. However you measure the numbers from a Government perspective, we pay in more than we take out. The proponents of Brexit argue that all this money would be available if we were to leave the EU and that therefore it is a no brainer to walk out and use this instead of painful spending cuts and tax rises to pay off our budget deficit. Full fact have pointed out that many of the figures used for this argument are gross and not net so UKIP’s famous £55 million per day is actually the total amount we pay in before the UK’s rebate and all the investment we receive back. Nevertheless the cost of membership is substantial and at the last budget it was estimated at £8.5 billion. Would this money simply return to UK taxpayers if we were to leave?
Sadly many economists, investors and businesses out there hold a different view. Banks predict a dramatic fall in the UK currency if we leave, meaning we would have to pay more for everything we buy from food to oil, whether from Europe or further afield. Investors warn that the UK would become a less attractive place to do business and some businesses threaten to go elsewhere. If any tariffs were to be imposed, these would add to the cost of the 53% of UK imports we currently get from Europe and for 43% of our exports that go there. Each of these, like the net costs argument, is prone to exaggeration of course but they do add up to a substantial risk that in total, their impact in lost jobs and tax revenues could outweigh the fiscal benefits of getting back our membership fee. For 2015 this was just over 1% of total public spending and so it is not the be all and end all of the argument as some suggest.
Against the net costs argument stand all the intangible benefits of membership which come not to the UK exchequer but to businesses and public institutions more widely. European funding for Universities, for farmers, for various projects and initiatives in the third sector can provide a welcome alternative to direct taxpayer subsidy. Goodwill from European investors and investors from the wider world who see the UK as a platform for investment in Europe. Inward investment is a UK success story and we attract it from all over the world, but the staggering £496 billion of Foreign Direct Investment in the UK that comes from Europe is almost half of what we receive from around the globe. Losing just one twentieth of this would wipe out the value of regaining our membership fee and damage our economy severely.
To bring in another local example, Worcester has benefited from FDI not only from Mazak but from Bosch. The German company bought out home grown Worcester Heat Systems in the 1990s but has invested in it consistently since. Hundreds of jobs have been created and thousands secured as a result of their willingness to keep on investing in this UK brand. Would that investment disappear overnight if we left the EU? Almost certainly not, but would it be harder to sell future investments to a board in Germany, almost certainly so.
The Remain campaign have argued that three million jobs would be at risk if we leave and I think this is as much of an exaggeration as any statistic used on the other side. However I know from speaking to a wide variety of businesses that there is a real risk to future investment and the jobs it can create and I do have to take that into account.
I believe the economic arguments on the EU are more finely balanced than either of the campaigns dare to admit. However on balance the downside risks of leaving are greater than the upside and the great success of the last few years of driving up employment in the UK whilst reducing the deficit, is too important to put at risk. Reducing the burden of regulation is a must but it will be so whether we are in or out, with the former giving us a greater chance of actually getting it done.
The Prime Minister’s negotiations have strengthened our hand when it comes to protecting the pound and ensuring that no EU wide laws can be set up to advantage Euro areas over those outside the Eurozone. This strengthens the position of our financial services industry, protects the many millions of jobs it provides and removes one of the biggest potential risks of staying in. Serious questions remain about the future of the Euro and it is welcome that we have ruled out having to bail out Eurozone countries not just now but permanently.
For many this is the nub. I have often said that I didn’t go into British politics only to be told what to do by Europe and I believe profoundly that sovereignty, the final say, resides at the level of our country first and foremost rather than any supranational organisation. I never have and never will want to live in a country called Europe and I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of a federal super state or a United States of Europe.
Britain’s Parliament, the mother of Parliaments is where the concept of Parliamentary democracy was born, it was where the first ever bill of rights was created and where the whole concept of human rights, enforceable by elected authorities were born to the world. I for one find it profoundly annoying when people argue that we need a European court of human rights to tell our country what to do. I find it unacceptable when a clear majority across all parties in Parliament vote for something and then find themselves told that it is incompatible with European law. This needs to change, but changing it, perhaps surprisingly, has little to do with the European Union.
On matters of law and human rights the relevant bodies are the European Court of Human Rights, not itself an EU institution and the European Court of Justice, which is. I support the campaign for Britain to come out from the jurisdiction of the ECHR and to ensure we have our own human rights laws which can be judged by British courts. I believe our courts and justice system are the best in the world and the envy of other nations and it is ludicrous that for years we have allowed judges from undemocratic nations such as Russia to rule on matters of human rights such as happened the when the UK was told we had to give prisoners the vote. Taking Britain out of this was in the manifesto on which the Conservative government was elected, it is not in any way a retreat from our commitment to human rights but rather a direct assumption of that responsibility rather than allowing it to be outsourced to another place.
In terms of the European Court of Justice, it is crucial to assert our sovereignty too. Germany has it written into their constitution that their own supreme court should be the ultimate judicial authority and I think we should too. This is why I have always supported what was in the 2010 Conservative manifesto, a UK sovereignty bill to make it clear that the UK Parliament and UK courts are the final authority when it comes to the law. The Prime Minister hinted at this in his speech at the end of the EU negotiations and it is something I will be encouraging him to deliver. Asserting the power and authority of the UK Parliament and UK courts is the right thing to do and by passing such a law, I believe we can do this without having to walk away from the EU as a whole.
Ever closer union has, for decades, been a key mantra of European treaties and of the EU project as a whole. From the coal and steel union between Germany and France it has been the objective to start small and grow the scope of the project over time. The problem with this is it was not what Britain ever really signed up for. When we were sold the Common Market, before I was born in 1975, it was all about the benefits of trade and cooperation but “ever closer union” was not the objective for almost anyone in Britain.
Over time it has become clear that there has been a real divergence between our view of this and that of others on the continent. The crisis in the Eurozone brought this to a head where Eurozone countries felt the need to integrate rapidly in order to save their currency whilst Britain and others outside the Euro saw the need to protect themselves from contagion and resist integration. In reality we have been living with a multi-speed Europe for some time. However the concept of ever closer union, being enshrined in EU law, means that the way the courts interpret laws and treaties is with the expectation everything will converge.
The biggest single change as a result of the Prime Minister’s negotiations is the exemption for the UK, to be written into the treaties, from ever closer union. Whilst this might seem like pedantry to some it is actually legally significant and marks a fundamental change. For the first time the EU is acknowledging that not only can you travel at different speeds towards integration but also that you can head towards a different destination. Britain can say so far and no further and we can choose, not be told, the extent of integration that we are prepared to accept. In short Britain has been offered special status and a different deal with the EU than that we had before. Having been told for most of my life that this would be impossible, I am delighted to see it happen.
With more assertion of our sovereignty and stronger UK laws such as a British Bill of Rights I believe we can choose our own destiny either in or out of the EU. I accept there are many who will disagree and I respect the views of those who believe that only by leaving will we be truly independent. It is true that every international organisation and every treaty does involve some sacrifice of sovereignty and our membership of NATO, the Commonwealth, the UN and the World Trade Organisation each involve sacrifices of this sort. I do not believe however that any of these are a fundamental threat to our independence as a nation and nor does the EU have to be if we opt out of ever closer union. Whatever the outcome of the referendum the very fact that we are having it reflects the reality that that the UK controls its own destiny.
First England, then Britain then then the UK has succeeded as an independent nation for over a thousand years, our oldest alliance, with Portugal predates the European Union by many hundreds of years and as a United Kingdom our Parliament and our laws have been an inspiration to people around the world. One of my most moving moments as an MP was listening to Aung Sung Suu Kyi speak in Parliament about how British values inspired her during her house arrest in far off Burma – British values and the British concept of human rights. I want us to be prouder of our history, our laws and our sovereignty and, if we are, I think we can be confident in playing our part in many multinational organisations whilst preserving what makes Britain special.
Security and Britain’s borders
Another major theme of the debate will be immigration, security and our ability to control our borders and this is perhaps where those who want us to leave will get most traction with the British people. There is certainly real concern that our existing deals with Europe leave us with insufficient control over our borders.
It is true that successive UK Governments have struggled to limit migration and the current refugee crisis affecting all of Europe is the biggest international crisis of this sort since the Second World War. Inward migration from Europe has been a major concern for many in the UK over the last twenty years and the much vaunted benefits of free movement, celebrated by big businesses, are seen by the majority of people as a problem.
I have supported campaigns to change the debate about immigration such as the cross party campaign for balanced migration, led by Labour euro-sceptic Frank Field and Conservative euro-phile Nicholas Soames. I do think we need to have a proper debate about immigration, but it needs to be one that appreciates this is a two way street. Yes there are challenges for our public services, for housing and for jobs that come with the free movement of people and particularly the arrival of large numbers of young people into our country each year. However there are also advantages to our country in its ability to bring in talent, in the ability of young UK citizens to live and work anywhere in Europe and in the fact that hundreds of thousands of UK citizens can choose to retire in places with a lower cost of living. Those who argue that coming out of Europe would somehow end the challenge of immigration miss a number of important points – two million UK citizens living overseas in the EU for a start.
However greater even than this is the issue that the refugee crisis and the issues of migration would not simply go away if we left the EU. The UK will continue to have responsibilities to help those in need and deep ties to many places around the world, not least the Commonwealth. The UK is already outside the Schengen passport free area and we are free to set our own border controls. UK businesses often argue in favour of freer movement from the rest of the world and easier visa access. We need to do more to improve our skills base and the ambition of young people at home so that we become less reliant on imported labour and we need to do these things regardless of our relationship with the EU.
Like Switzerland, we would be likely to find that if we left, we would still want easy access to our neighbours for business and leisure travel and we would still want to attract some of the brightest and the best investors, scientists and managers. We should not forget that the UK has a land border with the EU where Northern Ireland borders the Republic of Ireland. We allowed free movement between Britain and Ireland before we joined the EU and it would be unthinkable, least of all from the perspective of the peace process in Northern Ireland, not to allow it to continue now. Whilst the issue of migration will undoubtedly be a theme of the referendum debate, it is a more complex issue than many like to suggest and the challenges of resolving it will be much the same whether we stay in the EU or not. The Prime Minister’s deal addresses one small part of this by putting a brake on in work benefits from people traveling from the EU, which is a marginal improvement, addressing one of the concerns that people have.
For security there can be no doubt that our membership of NATO is more important than our membership of the EU but there are tangible benefits of having both. The Prime Minister has given examples where the European arrest warrant has enabled us to bring terrorism suspects to trail faster than would have been possible without it. We have frequently been able to persuade the EU to impose sanctions on our enemies and those who pose a threat to world peace and as one of the most proactive and outward looking countries in Europe, we are able to engage other countries in matters of concern to us on the global agenda. A Europe without Britain would be more inward looking, more timid and less willing to exert itself on the world stage, whilst some might see this as a good thing, I would argue it is better for us to be shaping the action and the policies of one of the world’s most influential forums rather than simply observing them.
I am glad that we do not and will not subscribe to a common European Foreign or Defence policy and I believe we are stronger being able to use Britain’s unique network of alliances both within and beyond Europe to project a positive influence in the world. Britain does not need to be in Europe to have our seat on the UN Security Council or our position as America’s closest ally but both are more likely to be challenged if we leave. When it comes to our ability to control immigration over the long term our policies have to focus on both security and the development of those countries from which immigration comes. Persuading other countries in Europe to share the burden and the privilege of supporting development in the poorest countries of the world is something that will only be possible if we stay to make the case.
One of the profoundest arguments made in favour of the European Union as a project is its contribution to ending war in Western Europe. Within living memory our continent has been completely torn apart by war and Britain has faced imminent threat of invasion. Even within my lifetime a continent divided down the middle by two armed camps has become one in which you can travel peacefully from one end to the other. For all its faults, there can be little doubt that the creation of a common forum for Europe and the accession of Eastern European states has contributed to this. It cannot, however take full credit. Other continents have seen similar movements towards peace due to the establishment of democracy across multiple different jurisdictions, in Latin America for instance and the simple fact is that democracies don’t tend to declare wars on each other. The European Union was not able to stop the vicious Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s and some would argue that it has even contributed to the move towards civil war in Ukraine. On balance I see peace in Western Europe as something that is welcome and to which the EU has contributed, but not something for which it can take full credit. What is undoubtedly true is that Europe is more likely to remain at peace if the EU continues to provide a forum for countries to resolve their differences. Britain’s security is therefore strengthened rather than weakened by the existence of the EU.
Europe in a state of change
For most of my lifetime it has been argued that the European project came as a package and it had to be a case of take it or leave it. I rapidly grew tired of hearing “you cannot have a two speed Europe”.
However the last decade has seen that change profoundly, the accession of Eastern European countries, something for which Britain pushed hard, meant that convergence had to become more nuanced and more multi-speed, the referendum struggles of Denmark and Ireland set precedents beyond our own, for countries to have their concerns heard and to be able to have opt outs written into the treaties. Most of all, first the emergence and then the crisis within the Eurozone meant that there had to be a clear acknowledgement of multiple tiers of membership. The Prime Minister’s achievement of special status and an exemption from ever closer union is just the latest step in this process but it sets the seal on the fact that the UK can have a special place and travel to a different destination let alone at a different speed.
There has also been a generational shift, little commented on but profoundly important. The generation that created the European project did so with high ideals and profoundly influenced by the driving need to avoid further wars. They were genuinely driven by a desire to avoid the horrors of pan-European conflict that they had all lived through and suffered. They were determined to achieve union at all costs and not inclined to pay attention the any obstacles that stood in their way. In the decades in which this generation drove forward the project they first excluded Britain and then, when we joined, argued that we could only take or leave the whole deal. The Franco-German axis at the heart of the project was profoundly distrustful of Britain’s scepticism and sought to carry the project so far that we could not resist it. This has changed.
A less ideological and more pragmatic generation of leaders have grown up in Europe, seeing both its flaws and its advantages, noting its benefits but also recognising its limits. Eastern European entrants rapidly ovecame their early wild enthusiasm for a project that seemed to offer the only real alternative to Russian domination, to begin raising concerns, fighting their corner and pressing the case for alternative views. If a small cabal at the centre of Europe had once been able to set the agenda, with these changes, it became more difficult for them to do so. The majority of young people in countries across Europe are moderately supportive of the EU as a thing but they don’t see it as their future destiny. Britain has been able to benefit from this change of mood to take a more pragmatic approach and to resist those who would force us into elements of “the project” we do not like.
I believe it is this change in the nature of the EU that makes it an acceptable body, worth investing in. I could not vote to remain in a body that is committed to tying us in to an ever closer union and, for all the high ideals of the founders, I don’t think their vision of Europe was ever really shared by the British people. That is why I rebelled in 2011 to secure a referendum and it is why I might very well have decided to vote to come out if this referendum had come in different circumstances. Europe has changed and is changing. I think we can continue to play a positive part in that change and the more flexible, less ideological Europe of today and tomorrow is one with which we can work.
The personal and local dimension
Friends and colleagues will know that I have often spoken out about the problems of Europe. I continue to press for change and to be sceptical that the EU has the answer to all or indeed many of our problems. I hope that the arguments set out above reflect the fact that I have genuinely engaged with both sides of the argument. My support for Britain staying in was by no means a foregone conclusion and will come to some as a surprise.
Growing up with a father in politics I used to argue with him more about Europe than any other matter. When I was selected as Worcester’s Conservative candidate in 2006, I got the biggest cheer of the meeting when I said “I agree with my father on a great many things but not about Europe.” Over thirty one years as Worcester’s MP however, he had been on both sides of the argument. When he was first elected in 1961 he spoke up for closer ties with the Commonwealth and the risks of putting the European Common Market above them. He toured the world speaking to Commonwealth allies about the risks of Britain joining the European Economic Community and even caused a riot in Australia. I used to tell him that I admired the stance he took then much more than I did his conversion to supporting Europe when he worked with Ted Heath in the 1970s. Like so many in that era, including Margaret Thatcher, he campaigned to take Britain in, and through most of his time in politics he was proud to be defined as a Tory wet, moderate on domestic policy and standing up for Europe even as it became less fashionable to do so.
Coming into political awareness at the time of the battles over Maastricht and with the politically ambitious Europe of Jacques Delors, I was deeply sceptical that Britain had made the right decision. I found myself in a quandary because I supported moderation on most policies but most of the moderates in my party were also Europhiles, most of the people who shared my view of Europe were on the right. I wanted to find a moderate one nation conservative who also spoke up against the creeping power of the EU and that is why in 1997 I volunteered to work for Stephen Dorrell, the one politician who at that time seemed to fit that bill.
As my party headed into opposition, deeply divided on the issue of Europe, the debate became about keeping the pound and we resisted furiously the perceived wisdom that the UK would inevitably join the Euro and the many siren voices that told us that by not doing so we would miss out. We may not have won many elections in those years but we were certainly right on that point.
When I entered Parliament in 2010, it was with the strong view that we needed to change our relationship with Europe. This came to a head when a backbench motion proposed a referendum in 2011 and all the political parties joined forces to whip their members against it. I opposed this profoundly and I spoke out about it because I felt my constituents were owed a real say. I rebelled against a three line whip and have not regretted doing so. I made it clear at the time that it should not be simply a question of in or out on the terms we had then, but an opportunity to reform our relationship with Europe. The speech I made that day is still one of the moments I am proudest of in my Parliamentary career and it is one on which I have had more positive feedback from constituents than any other. I am delighted that five years on we will actually see that referendum take place.
Over time as I have done the job of being a constituency MP and as I have worked with different Government departments, from Northern Ireland to DEFRA, BIS to Education, I have seen more of the ways in which Europe impacts us both positively and negatively. I have had the chance to discuss our relations with Europe with more people, more businesses and more organisations in and beyond my constituency. Perhaps some of this experience and some of the knowledge that comes with it has helped me to understand that the question of our membership is not so black and white as I once believed it was.
All my constituents will have their say and everyone in Worcester will have the chance to make their mind up. I have done so on the basis of the factors set out in this essay, but i have also done so on one more crucial factor.
As someone who is proud to be the Member of Parliament for a city I love, the place I grew up and care about passionately, I need to be able to look people in Worcester in the eye and say I believe I voted in their best interests. Although, in this debate, my vote will count no more than any other in Worcester I could not hold my head up high if I believed I had taken the wrong decision on such an important matter. I could not forgive myself if my decision to leave led to jobs being lost locally or businesses reducing investment.
Europe is not perfect and the Prime Minister’s deal has not transformed it completely. I agreed with the Financial Times writer Janan Ganesh when he argued we are all Eurosceptics but there is a big difference between having doubts about the EU and wanting to take the step of coming out. I believe that on balance the benefits of staying in and fighting for further change are now greater than the uncertainty of leaving. The risks of leaving are much greater than those of staying in. The Prime Minister’s negotiation has showed that we can get change and that it is possible to make elements of the European project adapt to us rather than it always being the other way round.
Neither campaign has yet made an entirely convincing case in my opinion. There will be arguments on all sides of the political spectrum for both in and out. The British people have a hugely important decision to take and, although my teenage self who saw this issue in black and white certainty, might express some disappointment, I am comfortable as a grown up politician to be taking a pragmatic view. I can look people in Worcester in the eye and say that I now believe we are better off staying in.