The referendum on 23rd June over whether to remain in or leave the European Union is one of the most important decisions of our lifetimes. Whatever is decided, there will be significant consequences for our country. I therefore urge everyone to use their vote.
In speaking with people about the referendum, I find that there are four main areas of debate – the economy, free movement of people, sovereignty and security.
Businesses – small and large – are divided nationally, but a majority of all sizes wish to see the UK remain in the EU. It is by far our largest export market and particularly important for motor vehicles, services and agricultural products. Some find EU regulation burdensome although that can sometimes be the consequence of UK implementation.
Most forecasters consider that remaining in the EU will result in better growth, higher employment, lower inflation and – above all – stability. Even Boris Johnson MP said leaving would prompt “an initial period of dislocation and uncertainty.” He said this would be “followed by very rapid improvement” although it is unclear to me how the rapid improvement would occur.
As the UK is outside the Schengen zone, there is no passport free travel here (the Irish Republic excepted). There is freedom for citizens of EU countries to work and live here, just as there is freedom for UK citizens to do so in any EU country. If we were to leave the EU, it seems to me that there would be fewer EU citizens coming to work in the UK, but not substantially fewer. We would still need considerable numbers to work in agriculture, services and the NHS where we have skills shortages.
Our sovereignty is precious. In Parliament, we decide on the vast majority of the vital matters which affect our lives – health, education, the economy, pensions and defence. It is true that we are constrained by the EU in some areas – rates of VAT, for instance – and that this can cause problems. But we need a sense of proportion. Our major successes – record employment - and mistakes –the banking crisis of 2007/8 and subsequent recession – are the UK’s responsibility, not that of the EU.
There has been much talk in recent days about how our security is bound up with the EU. I do not subscribe to some of the more apocalyptic remarks on both sides, but leaving is likely to raise questions about the position of Scotland in the UK, as well as concern over the future of Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
It is for all these reasons that, on balance, I will be voting to remain in the EU.
But what happens after the referendum is vital too. Stability is essential. One reason why the United Kingdom attracts so much investment from around the world - in addition to our EU membership - is that precious stability. We are a democracy where the rule of law is respected, freedom of speech (for the most part) upheld and governments come and go in accordance with the will of the people. Whatever happens on June 23rd, my task and that of all MPs will be to respect the result and work for the benefit and stability of our constituents and country.