How good is the deal the Prime Minister negotiated and how am I going to vote in the referendum?
Last night, the Prime Minister concluded his negotiations with the presidents and prime ministers of the other 27 members of the European Union (EU) on the future of the EU and our relationship with it.
At the last election, he promised that once he had renegotiated the terms of our membership he would hold a referendum to let the British people decide whether or not we should leave. Today, he announced that, subject to Parliamentary approval, that referendum will take place on 23rd June. He also said he believes the deal he secured is good enough for him to feel able to recommend that we remain in a reformed EU.
I thought it would be useful if I posted a summary of the deal the Prime Minister negotiated and the choice we all now face.
The Prime Minister went into the summit with four objectives.
Objective 1: Protections for countries like ours which are in the single market, but not in the euro
With most EU members having joined the euro and others at least on paper committed to doing so plus many decisions at EU level being taken by qualified majority voting not unanimity, 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: Make 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, China and Japan as well as our Commonwealth allies India, Australia and New Zealand. These deals could be worth billions of pounds and thousands of jobs to our economy.
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 access to our welfare system before they have contributed something.
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”. This deal gets Britain out of it. The treaties will be changed to make it 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 measures that we can take unilaterally to strengthen the sovereignty of our institutions.
The Prime Minister believes that this deal gives us the best of both worlds. 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. Today, a large majority of the Cabinet backed him in that decision including all three of his most senior Ministers: the Chancellor, George Osborne; the Home Secretary, Theresa May; and the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond.
On the other hand, those who have always wanted us to leave the EU - including a number of our national newspapers - say this deal achieves very little. But of course they would say that: they want you to vote ‘Leave’, so they can hardly admit that the Prime Minister has changed our relationship with the EU for the better.
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 make your mind up time
Ultimately, this isn’t a decision for politicians or newspaper proprietors, though. The people of this country will decide our future - and rightly so.
In the run-up to the election, lots of people told me that they didn’t believe 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 a big decision. What kind of country do we want to live in and in uncertain times how much of a risk are we prepared to take?
Some of the people who supported me at the last election and some of my closest political friends want to remain in the EU; others want to leave. On one level, it's therefore a tough decision because either way I'm going to find myself at odds with people I normally agree with.
But when it comes to it, I know what I think is best for Britain. Despite the improvements David Cameron has negotiated, 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 a free trade deal that gives us access to some markets, but no country has been able to negotiate full access to the single market without having to pay and obey the single market rules. What’s the point in leaving if, like Norway and Switzerland, we still have to obey EU laws but not longer have a say in making them, still have to make a financial contribution and still don’t have control of migration from within the EU?
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 India, want us to stay in.
We live in uncertain times and in my judgement leaving would be a big step into the unknown. It's too big a risk.
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. And on the night the Prime Minister announced his deal, who were the main speakers at the Leave rally? Nigel Farage and George Galloway. Which of these two groups of politicians do you think has the better grasp of what’s best for Britain?