It may be helpful to colleagues and especially to my constituents if I set out why I have decided to support the campaign to leave the EU. Forty years ago, I was proud to serve on the Oxford Committee for Europe which co-ordinated the Yes campaign in the University of Oxford. I wanted to protect our place in the world’s largest free market and what I then saw as an emerging community of nations. Before entering Parliament, I enjoyed working for a Swedish consulting firm with clients in many parts of Europe. In the House, I have spoken little about the EU. I even voted, albeit with some misgivings, for Maastricht.
Three things have led to my decision today. First is the crisis in the Eurozone, and the ensuing, unprecedented mass movement of people from its unhappy southern and eastern members and neighbours to Britain. We have to face up to the sheer arithmetic of Britain’s spiralling population and all that means for housing shortages, strain on our public services and infrastructure. The briefest study of today’s mounting overload in our primary schools shows how much worse these strains will become in the next generation. And that would be even if we were to take charge of our borders and somehow bring migration into balance tomorrow.
Under David Cameron’s leadership, we have bucked the European trend and Britain’s economy is growing steadily, while the Eurozone stagnates. Yet, there is little growth in wages here, as a flood of victims of European stagnation arrive to compete for jobs. This is driving down the price of labour. Today in Britain, a generation of young people find themselves unable to buy homes, as their parents did. The population is rising faster than we can build – despite the best efforts of the government to encourage more construction.
Secondly, a tragic crisis is now superimposed on this self-inflicted wound of the single currency. We should all be proud of the lead Britain has shown in the fight against Daesh and in providing facilities in the region for refugees from the horrors in Syria. But a series of unhappy events, combined with the shambles of Schengen, have led to a torrent of people into Europe. The bulk of these people are young men from a range of poor countries, rubbing shoulders with genuine refugees as they seek a better way of life. If we do not reassert control of our borders, they will be free to come to Britain as soon as they have achieved settled status in any part of the continent. The growth of camps in France, a safe country by any reasonable standard, shows how much Britain is a favoured destination.
Third, and most intractable, is sovereignty – a subject of understandably little interest to most, until its direct effects are felt. Britain has long been proud of its commitment to the Rule of Law, whose cornerstone was always parliamentary sovereignty. When we joined the EEC and signed up to subsequent treaties, we accepted that, in certain carefully defined areas, we would cede ultimate decision-making powers to the European Court of Justice, rather than Parliament. Since then, the ECJ has made many decisions which extend its authority well beyond those areas. This, combined with a cocktail of misguided rulings from the European Court of Human Rights and judicial activism by some of our own judges, has progressively undermined our parliament and our government. We can no longer decide on issues from the deportation of foreign criminals to the alleged rights of home-grown ones to vote.
I have watched with admiration the government’s attempts to tackle the manifest injustices in the judge-led structure of human rights. This has got further and further away from the vision of the, largely British, legal minds which established the European Convention as a bulwark of liberty against tyranny. It has sadly become clear that real change in this area is built on sand. The ECJ is increasingly embracing the field of human rights – and, anyway, membership of the EU requires us to remain signed up to the Convention.
The question we face is not for or against the status quo. Voices not normally seen as Europhobic, from the IMF to the Pope, have said that the Eurozone must change tack. This must involve those countries moving towards political and fiscal unity; political unity has proved necessary for every successful large scale monetary union since the invention of paper money. The actual question is whether we remain as an exposed junior partner on the side-lines of the bitter and lengthy struggles within the Eurozone, as a new country is born – or a painful miscarriage happens. If we choose to stay in, we remain an open destination for those fleeing the economic consequence of the Eurozone’s worsening crisis. We remain helpless to take steps in our national interest.
The alternative is to re-join the rest of the World, keeping our influential places in the proven institutions of NATO, the UN and the Commonwealth. We can unshackle British business from Brussels’ micromanagement and negotiate a new relationship with our European neighbours. We buy far more from them than they do from us. And this will free them to construct a future which we chose not to join when we rejected the single currency.
Britain can have a great future, if we take charge of our own destiny, resting in secure alliances and continuing to rebuild our global trade.