Monday, 22 February 2016

Read, thought and listened a lot over the last few days, but I believe we should remain in Europe. I shall be voting In

This is not a decision for politicians to decide. We made a pledge to let the people decide and that is the pledge that the PM has stuck to.

However, like many of you, I have spent some time over the last 3 days:
- weighing the arguments,
- speaking to constituents of all views, businesses and backgrounds,
- reading the documentation - the agreement is here:http://uk.mobile.reuters.com/article/idUKKCN0VS2SH?irpc=932 , 
- and assessing the claims of both sides of the argument since the Prime Minister concluded his negotiation with the presidents and prime ministers of the other 27 members of the EU; the referendum he promised at the last election will take place on 23rd June.

I stress that I do not start this process as someone who is determined that we should stay, or determined that we should leave. There are legitimate arguments on both sides. I would describe myself as a Eurosceptic in the broadest sense.

But, I do think you have to assess what the Prime Minister negotiated, and the direction of travel this takes the UK, and the choice we all now face.  The people of this country will decide our future - and rightly so. My job, I think, is to address the arguments as the elected representative: in doing so I start with two fundamentals.
- What is best for Britain?
- And what is best for my Hexham constituency, and the wider North East? 
In the run-up to the election, lots of people told me that they didn’t believe David Cameron would keep his word and, after a renegotiation, hold a referendum. He’s proved the doubters wrong and now we all need to make our minds up.

It’s one of the biggest decisions we will face in our lifetimes. What kind of country do we want to live in and how much of a risk are we prepared to take?

In one sense, I find it a very tough decision. Some of the people who gave up hours of their spare time to get me elected want us to remain in the EU; others want us to leave. It’s difficult finding yourself at odds with people you so often agree with.

But when it comes to it I know how I am going to vote. Despite David Cameron’s best efforts, the EU will still be far from perfect. The world wouldn’t end if we left it. But I believe that we will be more prosperous, more secure, and have more influence in the world, if we remain in the EU.
More prosperous because we have full access to the single market. If we leave, we may well be able to negotiate access to the single market, but only if we pay and only if we obey the rules - rules we would no longer have a say in making.

I have actually read what the PM achieved by this renegotiation, and I believe it does make a real difference. It sets out the direction of travel in a way that has never been done before. And all those
indications are positive for Britain, and positive for a reformed role in Europe. 

My colleagues, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, have made good arguments about sovereignty and the importance of Britain controlling its destiny. I echo many of their sentiments. But I disagree on how that destiny is best controlled.
The question is: Are you in the tent influencing what goes on or out of the tent with no say? In today's globalised world I believe that our influence is stronger, and our interests better served, by being in the tent. 

This question of what is sovereignty is key to our assessment of the U.K. And the EU. It is sovereignty that is the lynchpin of Boris and Michaels argument. This article in the Economist over the weekend has swayed me a lot in relation to the vexed issue of sovereignty as proposed by Boris, and Michael Gove. The full version is here: http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2016/02/bojo-breaks-ranks

But the key quote for me on sovereignty is here:
"The flaw in this case lies in the tradition's idealistic definition of sovereignty. For Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, being sovereign is like being pregnant—you either are or you aren’t. Yet increasingly in today’s world, real sovereignty is relative. A country that refuses outright to pool authority is one that has no control over the pollution drifting over its borders, the standards of financial regulation affecting its economy, the consumer and trade norms to which its exporters and importers are bound, the cleanliness of its seas and the security and economic crises propelling shock waves—migration, terrorism, market volatility—deep into domestic life. To live with globalisation is to acknowledge that many laws (both those devised by governments and those which bubble up at no one’s behest) are international beasts whether we like it or not. If sovereignty is the absence of interference, the most sovereign country in the world is North Korea.

Thus the EU is just one of thousands of intrusions on the sort of sovereignty that the likes of Mr Johnson so cherish. Britain is subject to some 700 international treaties involving multi-lateral submissions to multilateral compromises. Its membership of the UN similarly infringes its self-determination, for it can be outvoted there just as it can in Brussels. Likewise the WTO, NATO, the COP climate talks, the IMF, the World Bank, nuclear test ban treaties and accords on energy, water, maritime law and air traffic all require Britain to tolerate the sort of trade-offs that Eurosceptic out campaigners find distasteful: influence in exchange for irksome standardisation, laws and rules set mostly by foreigners not elected by Britons (regulations that Britain would not

apply, or would apply differently, if left to its own devices). Yet it submits to all of these knowing that, as with the EU, it is free to leave whenever it wants—but at a price not worth paying.

This is precisely why the two models for a Britain outside the EU often cited by Eurosceptics (including Mr Johnson), Norway and Switzerland, constitute such weak arguments for Brexit. Under the Johnson-Gove view, these countries are quite dramatically more "sovereign" than Britain. But in practice their economies and societies are so intertwined with those of their neighbours that they must subject themselves to rules over which they have no say. This exposes a false choice: in an increasingly interdependent world, countries must often opt not between pure sovereignty and the pooled sort, but—however distasteful the choice may seem—between the pooled sort and none."



I stress that having read the document I am impressed by the direction of travel that seeks to ensure that we get the best of both worlds: a two speed Europe for those who are fundamentally committed to a common market, as a base, and those who want a Europe which is fully integrated with one currency and one overall government. I believe the PM has opened clear water between these two things.

However, whilst not everything we would have liked has been secured from the negotiation I believe that no assessment of the direction of travel is possible without assessing it.

When he started the Prime Ministers negotiation had four objectives.

Objective 1: A 2 speed Europe with Protections for countries like ours which are in the single market, but not in the euro

Most EU members are fully into ever closer union, having joined the euro; and there is a danger that if the eurozone starts voting as a bloc Britain could find itself consistently out-voted.

The deal the Prime Minister negotiated prevents this. First, it permanently protects the pound. For the first time, the EU has explicitly acknowledged that it has more than one currency.

It also ensures that British taxpayers will never be made to bail out countries in the eurozone. 
And crucially it ensures that British business won’t face discrimination because of our decision not to join the euro - for example, our financial services firms couldn’t be told that they have to relocate to the eurozone if they want to trade in euros.

If any member state that is not a member of the eurozone believes that these rules are being broken, they can unilaterally activate an emergency safeguard to ensure that they are enforced.


Objective 2: putting job creation at the heart of Europe by making Europe more competitive so our economy can create more jobs

For the first time, competitiveness will be "an essential objective of the Union."

The EU will complete the single market in services. This will be a particular benefit to the UK because service companies make up two thirds of our economy.

The EU will also complete the single market in capital. This will mean UK start-ups will be able to access more sources of finance and it will also present new opportunities for the UK financial services industry.

And the EU will complete the single market in energy. This will allow more suppliers into the UK energy market, lowering bills.

In addition, the PM secured commitments that the EU will complete trade and investment agreements with the fastest growing and most dynamic economies around the world including the USA, Japan and China as well as our Commonwealth allies India, New Zealand and Australia. These deals could add billions of pounds and thousands of jobs to our economy every year.

And the Prime Minister also got the EU to introduce targets to cut the total burden of its regulation on business.

Objective 3: Reduce the very high level of migration from within the EU by preventing the abuse of free movement and stopping our welfare system acting as a magnet for people to come to our country

This is probably the objective that matters most to many of my constituents. The Prime Minister secured:

- new powers to stop criminals from other countries coming here in the first place and to deport them if they are already here;
- longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages;
- an end to the ridiculous situation where EU nationals can avoid British immigration rules when bringing their families from outside the EU;
- an end to EU migrants working in Britain sending Child Benefit at UK rates to their families back home. At first, this change will apply to new claimants, but from the start of 2020 it will also apply to existing claimants; and
- an emergency brake under which EU migrants will have to wait four years until they have full access to our benefits, finally putting to an end the situation where people can come to our country and get something for nothing.


Objective 4: Protect our country from further European political integration and increase powers for our national Parliament

Ever since we joined the EEC, it has been on the path to “ever closer union”. The Prime Minister has managed to get Britain out of it. The treaties will be changed to make clear that “the Treaty references to
ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom”.

A new red card mechanism will allow our Parliament to work with other national parliaments to block unwanted legislation from Brussels.

The EU will have to carry out an annual review of its powers to identify those which are no longer needed and should be returned to nation states.

And the deal makes it clear in international law that Britain's national security is the sole responsibility of the British Government - so, for instance, we will never be part of a European Army.

In addition to these changes, the Prime Minister announced that he will shortly be bringing forward further proposals that we can take unilaterally to strengthen the sovereignty of our institutions.


Conclusion
The Prime Minister believes that this deal gives us the best of both worlds.

In the run-up to the election, many people doubted that David Cameron would keep his word and hold a referendum. He’s proved the doubters wrong and now we all need to make our minds up.

It’s one of the biggest decisions we will face in our lifetimes. What kind of country do we want to live in and how much of a risk are we prepared to take?

I have thought long and hard over my decision. Some of the people who gave up hours of their spare time to get me elected want us to remain in the EU; others want us to leave. It’s difficult finding yourself at odds with people you normally agree with.

But I know how I am going to vote. Despite David Cameron’s best efforts, the EU will still be far from perfect. The world wouldn’t end if we left it. But I believe that we will be more prosperous, more secure and have more influence in the world if we remain in the EU.

More prosperous because we have full access to the single market. If we leave, we may well be able to negotiate access to the single market, but only if we pay and only if we obey the rules - rules we would no longer have a say in making. We will be in the parts of Europe that work for us - the single market that makes us more prosperous and the Europe-wide co-operation on crime and terrorism that makes us more secure. But we will be out of the parts of Europe that we want nothing to do with - the eurozone and its bailouts, the passport-free movement area, a European Army or an EU super-state.

He is therefore recommending that we remain in a reformed EU.

It’s interesting to see what the newspapers in other European countries make of it.  Most of them seem to think the Prime Minister got nearly everything he wanted - and some of them aren’t too happy about it.


It’s your decision

Ultimately, this isn’t a decision for politicians or newspapers. It's your decision. The people of this country will decide our future in our out of the EU - and rightly so.

I personally beleive we are more secure because close co-operation between EU members helps prevent terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking and cyber attacks. If we left, there’s no guarantee such co-operation would continue.

And more influence because when we agree 28 countries speaking as one are more likely to be listened to than Britain alone. All of our allies outside the EU, like the USA and The Commonwealth, want us to stay in.

We live in challenging times and leaving would be just too risky.

If you’re undecided, I’ll leave you with one final thought: look at the politicians on either side of the argument. The Prime Minister and all three of his surviving predecessors - John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - believe we should remain in the EU. They do not do so lightly. This is a complex, globalised world, and I think we are right to conclude that being in the tent in a reformed EU with a direction of travel that allows us to be part of a 2 Speed Europe is the right way to go. I shall be voting In.

4 comments:

  1. I don't agree with your politics in general, but I do think you've made the right decision. On this occasion, I support you.

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  2. I am so glad you have reached this conclusion and will be doing everything you can to ensure that we stay part of Europe.

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  3. Really useful exploration of sovereignty. Thank you. It has added further weight to my thinking that Britain should stay in.

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  4. You offer a well reasonable set of arguments for voting yes even if my heart prefers a No. The worst thing going forward is if this debate becomes hot headed rather than measured.

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