I’ll be voting to leave the EU on 23rd June – not a position I was expecting to be in just a few months ago. Here’s why.
I voted for David Cameron as Party Leader and think he is leading an outstanding government, delivering exactly the kind of One Nation reform the country needs. I’m proud to have played my small part in the two election victories that put him, and kept him, in No 10. I also think he has done everything he can to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU – showing real tenacity to bring back a better deal to put to the public.
But for me, with a soul thoroughly searched, it’s just not enough.
Voting to stay in a reformed EU has often felt like the safer option – better the devil you know. I had high hopes I would able to support the deal that would be brought back – and had assumed I would now be doing so.
But watching in the last few weeks how little ground other EU nations have been prepared to give – how intolerant of diversity the institutions and leaders of the EU appear to be in the face of the PM’s completely reasonable demands – and how clear it has become that real change will never be on the table – I just can’t bring myself to vote to stay. The more I think about staying, the more leaving feels like the right thing to do.
I have never been of the view that the UK should never have joined the EEC in 1973, nor that the EU is some vast conspiracy to change our way of life. Membership has brought us undeniable benefits. The single market has kept prices low and made it easier for British businesses to access 500 million customers. After centuries of conflict and in the 20th century, unimaginable horror, continental Europe is finally at peace with itself. For all the understandable concern over free movement, it is a fact that while 2.3 million EU citizens have come to the UK, an estimated 2.2 million of us live in EU nations – the advantages and disadvantages have always cut both ways.
The facts, however, have changed, and we must change with them. Our place in the EU has run its course. The fate of the UK and the fate of the disastrous Euro are now one of the same – the only way the single currency can survive is as the currency of a federal Europe, with a common fiscal policy. Like Andrew Lillico, I think that’s fine and entirely rational from their point of view – I just don’t want the UK to be a part of it.
Secondly, I’m proud to serve as a councillor in the greatest borough in the greatest city on earth. Part of the reason for that greatness is our place as a global financial centre – and in this, the last few weeks have confirmed that our membership of the EU will remain a threat, not an opportunity. Our MEPs already spend most of their time and efforts having to foil continental attempts to undermine the UK’s financial services sector in favour of Paris and Frankfurt – and President Hollande has spent the entire renegotiation trying to further this aim. This appears highly unlikely to change.
Thirdly, we should remember that the world is a big place, filled with new opportunities – and in its inflexibility and intransigence, the EU has shown it is fundamentally ill-equipped for a truly global economy. It is, as Michael Gove put it yesterday, “an analogue union in a digital world”. In the face of such narrow Europeanism, we shouldn’t restrict our ambitions to just one continent. We need to look to China, Brazil, India, the Commonwealth. We need to look to the future – of which Europe is only a small part.
Unfortunately, the nature of referenda is that they create strange bedfellows. The very worst consequence of deciding to vote leave is that it places you on the same side of the fence as those for whom this has been a lifelong obsession – pernicious cranks like Nigel Farage, well-intentioned cranks like Peter Bone and down-right ludicrous cranks like some of the pub bores and conspiracy theorists who have been occupying the extreme fringes of British Euroscepticism for all these years.
I’ve reached my decision despite them, not because of them. Ultimately, however, this is not their referendum, but the people’s – and we now all have the opportunity to have our own say.
For that, we can thank the Prime Minister and the dedicated Conservative Party activists who won a Conservative majority government last May – not the UKIP obsessives and defectors who tried to achieve the opposite. It’s the Conservative Party that has given us this referendum – and it’s the Conservative Party that will lead the UK through its consequences, whatever the result.
If we vote to leave, that is going to have to include round two in the fight to prevent our own Union from breaking apart.
For now, my biggest hope is that after a period of disagreement, we can come together after the referendum as a nation confident about its future – and as a Party, to continue to do what Conservatives do best: delivering the economic security and One Nation reform that the UK will need to thrive in the 21st century.
On balance, and despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, I think we will have a better chance of doing that outside of the EU. We’ll see in just four short months what the country thinks.