Like many of my colleagues, I wanted to wait until the renegotiation process had completely run its course before making a final decision on whether or not Britain should remain in the EU. I didn’t believe it was right that I reached a conclusion before seeing the final deal.
After careful deliberation I have decided that, with things as they currently stand, it would not be in the best interests of the country to leave. This does not mean to say I do not think that there is some serious reform to be made. A good example is the question of EU immigration into the UK, which is in my mind one of the principal areas requiring reform. The deal which the Prime Minister brought back means that EU immigrants to the UK will have 6 months to find a job, or else they will have to leave. I think this is an example of where real progress has been made towards solving a problem faced by the UK.
Recent events around terrorism – especially the Paris attacks – have also been a factor in my decision to stay in. There are existing agreements within the EU which allow Governments to share intelligence and work together to ensure the safety of their citizens. Thanks to these arrangements, the authorities were able to track down and catch the Paris attackers even after they had left France. At present, I don’t think that we should be walking away from these kind of arrangements. Just one missed opportunity could spell disaster and I don’t think we can let that happen.
I’m not going to pretend that all of the problems presented by the EU have been solved. There is still work to be done, and I recognise that being a member of the EU means that there are some areas in which Government is constrained. We’re going to have to keep up the fight in Brussels to make sure that the UK’s voice is heard and our concerns listened to.
But when I see economic storm clouds forming on the horizon – with lots of economists forecasting a coming period of global economic stagnation – I think that to leave now would just be too great a gamble. The economic recovery that the British Government is delivering in this country has not been an easy job, and anything which could jeopardise it is something I think that we should avoid.
I also look to the east, and see a Russia under Vladimir Putin which is once again flexing its military muscle against the European continent. If we left the EU now it would send a message to Putin that Europe is weak and divided. I don’t think that now is the time to turn our backs on all that – we should stand firm, and united, in the face of this aggression.
The deal that the Prime Minister has secured means that the EU’s political goal of ‘ever closer union’ will no longer apply to the UK. I welcome this. I fervently believe that the EU should be a union of individual sovereign states, not a super-state, and ruling us out of ‘ever closer union’ will mean that we won’t be giving any more powers away to Brussels.
The EU is far from perfect. Nobody thinks it is. But I just don’t think that we should walk away from decades of cooperation on security, trade, labour rights at work, and a host of other areas where real progress has been made to better people’s lives.
I’ll finish by saying that I’ve had lots of constituents asking me how I would recommend they vote. I’m not going to be recommending anyone to vote one way or another. I’ll be voting to remain because of the reasons I’ve set out above. I would encourage everyone, even if you don’t generally take an interest in politics, to inform themselves about this issue, and to consider the arguments that I’ve made as to why we should stay in. Ultimately, though, I want people to draw their own conclusions.
We already know that it’s a divisive issue and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to vote when you get into the polling booth. Vote with your head, and your heart, and whatever the outcome of the referendum, let’s not let this issue divide us.