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Steve Brine MP gives his view on the 2016 EU Referendum and explains why he will be voting to Remain in June ...
My constituents will know that one of the key campaigns I ran throughout the last Parliament was my Name the Date campaign for our promised EU referendum, and we now know this national poll will take place on Thursday 23rd June.
As a proud democrat, I have always said that our relationship with the European Union is not a decision purely for MPs, and governments, and that everyone in the country should be able to have a say with a vote that is equal to their local MP, let alone the Prime Minister. We are now reaching this historic moment, and I wanted to share my personal thoughts.
There are many founding myths in our country, even more in our politics and more than you can shake a stick at when it comes to the Conservative Party.
Many of those that suit us a nation (eg; Britannia rules – or ruled - the waves) happen to be true but when it comes to the Conservative Party, they usually suit our political opponents and the lazy media more than be grounded in modern reality.
In my experience, there is no greater myth than that which says the Tory Party is "obsessed" with Europe. It used to be for sure and it turned me off as much as (so it turned out) the rest of the country. That's why David Cameron was spot-on when he said, while running for the leadership of our party, it was time to stop "banging on about Europe".
Many of the new generation of Conservative MPs, including me, elected since 2010 were not driven into politics by the tyranny of Brussels pledging to regain British sovereignty.
Of course we care deeply how our country is governed – as a member of the Government in a big department myself, I see every day how it is - but we have many different interests and reasons for wanting to be in public life.
For me it is the health service (especially how we fight cancer), radical reform of the justice system and a desire to save our threatened planet from ourselves; but I digress ...
At the age of forty-two, I am clearly one of Thatcher's children. I am a signed-up euro-sceptic and have said on the national media many times, I would vote to leave this European Union as long as Britain has its current membership. It doesn't work for me right now.
Shortly after being elected, in November 2011, I voted against a three-line whip in the House of Commons – against the 'advice' of the new Prime Minister – to say this country should have an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU.
Why did I do that? Well, I can confirm it wasn't a great career move for a new MP.
Truth is, I was just 16-months old in 1975 when Harold Wilson last put this question to the British people and have always felt the democratic deficit around our EU membership, not least because of the way our relationship has been changed through Treaty after Treaty under successive Governments, has to be addressed.As I said at the time to my constituents, and my Prime Minister, it's in the interests of this country and the European Union that we have the debate and – one way or another – achieve a re-set in the relationship we have with our nearest neighbours.
We lost the vote that day but, eventually, the policy of my party changed and a promise to deliver that in/out plebiscite was included in the PM's landmark 'Bloomberg' speech and, in-turn, in the Conservative manifesto of 2015.
Obviously, we won that election last year and we intend to deliver on every line of that manifesto including the EU referendum so long denied by Mr Cameron's predecessors. It was, dare I say it, a cast iron guarantee.
I have been fortunate enough to discuss this renegotiation with the Prime Minister on a number of occasions since being re-elected and, while I always felt his requests were certainly not overly ambitious, I know this is a man who's attended dozens of EU summits and is a now an experienced leader on the world-stage.
I think David Cameron was smart to set out a stall he felt, using that experience and knowing the negotiation that would come from his fellow leaders, he could deliver.
The 'Deal' he has secured is, in my opinion, more significant than many felt (or maybe hoped) he'd be able to deliver and I think it's interesting how newspaper editorials in other European capitals, view it as much thicker 'gruel' than our own Fleet Street.
Furthermore, the details of that deal were not dreamt up by David Cameron on the Downing Street sofa. In our Manifesto last year, we made a number of commitments to fix the four key problems with the EU that we believe frustrate people in Britain. It's worth re-stating them here;
- We said we would get Britain out of 'ever closer union' and give national parliaments the power to work together to block unwanted EU laws. We have delivered that in this deal which explicitly says we will never become part of a European Superstate.
- In our Manifesto, we said that we would make Europe more competitive. We have delivered that in this deal with commitments to cut red tape, in particular for small business – that means we can create more jobs and security for working people in Britain.
- In our Manifesto, we said that we would protect Britain as the Eurozone continues to integrate. We have delivered that in this deal – that means British taxpayers will never be required to bail out the Eurozone, and that British businesses can never be discriminated against because we are not part of the Euro. For the first time, the EU formally recognises that there is more than one currency in the Union.
- In our Manifesto, we said that we would put an end to the something for nothing welfare culture for EU migrants so that we can better control immigration from Europe. We have delivered that in this deal in so much as;
* EU migrants can no longer claim full in-work benefits for four years
* Child Benefit will no longer be sent overseas to Europe at UK rates;
And we have already delivered our commitments to;
- Require EU migrants to leave Britain after six months if they haven't found work and have no genuine prospect of finding a job.
- Stop EU migrants from being able to claim Universal Credit while looking for work.This agreement is legally binding and irreversible without full agreement of all EU states including the UK.
And this deal also means we will never join the Euro, never join a European Army, and never be part of the Schengen borderless zone.
But, as the argument goes, this referendum is about much more than the 'Deal' which some argue is fundamental change while others mock it as small change - or 'thin gruel' in the words of my friend and colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.
They say this referendum is about the bigger picture and the whole idea of the European project. I think that's right.
I most definitely do not love Brussels. I want less Europe not more.
But the question I have asked myself time and again in recent months is does that mean I want NO Europe? Looking at the evidence available and the 'Deal' on the table, what is my on-balance view?
I have concluded, after huge thought and careful consideration that Britain's national interest is best served by us remaining a member of a reformed European Union. I will therefore, vote to Remain in the referendum to be held on Thursday June 23rd 2016.
I have never said this country could not survive outside the European Union. We are the 5th largest economy on earth and Great Britain will always do great things.
So it is as silly to suggest staying in is a golden goose for the British people as it is to say leaving will lead us to a land of milk and honey.
What I will do in this referendum campaign is try to step back from these polarising positions and take a sober view whether the bad bits of our membership (and we know they're in plentiful supply) are worth quitting over – and, crucially, worth doing so at this particular time. In the end, for me, it will be a head and a heart decision.
At first principle, and the thing we did vote for in 1975, is the Single Market.
Those who want to leave Europe cannot tell me if British businesses would be able to access Europe's free trade single market, or critically, when. They cannot tell me that jobs in my constituency and across the south are safe and how much prices would rise. At a time of uncertainty, to leave would seem to me a leap in the dark.
So are we better off working together in a reformed Europe or being out on our own?
My view is that to leave the EU and then immediately set about trying to negotiate trade deals to opt back into those markets, applicable as those deals would be to certain industries only, is against the British national interest.
Secondly, I agree with the Prime Minister's recommendation to Remain because I believe we will be safer in a reformed Europe working with our European partners to fight cross border crime and terrorism.
We can play a leading role in one of the world's largest organisations from within, helping to make the big decisions on trade and security that determine our future.
As Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, one of the most impressive Ministers I have worked with, says; "our first duty is to protect the nation's security and now is no time to hide under our duvets".
However irritating the Eurocrats are in Brussels, I agree now is not the time to withdraw from the western alliance when Britain faces multiple threats from Russia's president Vladimir Putin, crime and international terrorism.
President Putin would, in my opinion, be happiest if Britain withdrew from the EU. It is not scaremongering to ask which result Putin would favour. If we left, the European Union for the first time in its history would be smaller and weaker. That's obviously in Russia's interests.
The challenges of Russian aggression and international terrorism are global and transnational and the EU helps us stand together in the face of that.
So are we safer working together in a strong Europe of nation states, part of the NATO Alliance? I conclude we are.
Thirdly, I believe we are stronger working together so long as that does not mean a political union where 'ever closer union' sucks the life out of our country.
As a general rule, I think it's a good thing that nations can sit down and talk (even if does take two days and two nights!) to work through their differences.
That does not have to mean the end of the nation state – and we have through this Deal important new protections in that regard – but it does mean we will give something away in order to achieve that collectivism at the end of the day.
The European continent has, right now, a multitude of problems from the migrant crisis on its southern shores to the incomplete single market and the weakness of its economies. Many believe these three things are the most potent examples of why the EU has failed and why Britain should walk away. I disagree.
It is naïve to believe we could ignore Europe just because we voted to leave. Whether we stay or go the European Union will still exist, right on our doorstep, and it's in our national interest that it thrives whether we like it or not. We cannot turn the clock back and we cannot stop the world because we want to get off.
For me, this deal and this referendum is not the end of Britain's leading role in reforming the EU, it is the start. While I realise this may cause more than a few groans among our European partners, we cannot pretend there are not many more ways in which Europe needs to improve.
One of the words of the moment around this EU summit was, I am told, "contagion". Will other EU leaders get ideas from David Cameron that maybe the European project needs updating and modernising? I was struck by the comments of those other leaders this weekend, and the Italian Prime Minister is a good example, who said Europe was "a great idea and a great dream but, if we believe in unity, it has to change." He's right.
Contagion is something we should encourage and lead because David Cameron really has set a thousand hares running with this Deal and I believe there's now a hearing to be had for the notion that a one-size fits all European Union is something that belongs to the 1970's not the future.
I believe the EU actually needs us more than we need it right now. I believe we make a positive choice to stay, recognising that there are compromises to being part of any club, and work inside the tent to make it work better for us and everyone else at the same time.
So, on the deal David Cameron has brought home and the fundamental project we are part of that's called the European Union, I believe we do have special status at the end of this renegotiation and can have the best of both worlds.
We could leave and we may be fine but I'm not sure we want to – or would be wise to – so my considered view is we should remain.
Finally, I began with mention of founding myths and there is one more about the Conservative Party currently doing the rounds. It is said this referendum will tear the party apart as we all fall out horribly.
Indeed I have spoken to many Labour politicians recently, aware as they are that they have one or two problems of their own, who tell me they are counting on it!
Sure, there will be heated exchanges and strongly held views expressed on both sides of the debate and people will disagree, even members of the same Cabinet. But I know this, every single colleague of mine in the parliamentary party, is determined we will be professional and courteous at every turn.
That's because we know there's far more that unites us than divides us. We were elected on a manifesto less than a year ago and have a mandate from the British people to deliver it in full. That work goes on, we will have our campaign and our vote in June then we come back together as one Government to continue the work of turning our country around.
Please respect that this is my private view that I have chosen to make public.
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