Time to move on from the EU project

James Davies MP explains why he will be voting to leave the EU.

The truth is that the EU is a largely political project and Britain has always been a reluctant partner of it. It’s time to move on.

Over 40 years on from the UK’s referendum on continued membership of the then European Economic Community, it is right that a new generation of voters be given a say on our remaining part of what is now the European Union. Much has changed since 1975 and throughout that time, the UK has often been seen as a reluctant partner of the EU. It was clear during my lengthy campaigning in the run up to the 2015 General Election that the promise of an “in/out” referendum was popular and furthermore that a significant minority of local people in my Vale of Clwyd constituency wished, unprompted, to express their support for leaving the EU. A recent opinion poll in Wales demonstrated an 8% lead for the campaign to leave. The delivery of a referendum on 23rd June this year satisfies a clear election pledge which I recall some were disbelieving of in the run up to May of last year. That very fact is a victory for democracy in itself.

As a child of the 1980s, I know of nothing other than life within the European Union. I recognise its great contribution to post-war stability in Europe and in expanding western democracy to the former Eastern bloc, much of which I have visited and taken a particular interest in. I also celebrate the economic benefits that free trade agreements have brought. Like everyone else, however, I am very aware of the many failings of the institution.

For some, the very existence of the EU has been a continual irritant. For most, the European Union has never featured near the top of their list of political concerns. I fall in that latter category; it is not in my view reasonable to blame most of our ills on the EU, foreigners or migrants and I have very often tired of certain politicians and tabloids whose agenda can revolve around little else. In that respect, I am content with the idea that the UK could continue to remain an EU member state post-June. However, this referendum should not be about what we can “live with” but rather what gives our country and our children the best chance of a bright and prosperous future.

Until recently, I assumed that Britain’s future was likely to be best served by remaining a member of the European Union, but the national debate and local feedback triggered by the impending vote has made me think somewhat differently.

Top of the list in favour of a “leave” vote is that the UK would regain control of democratic decision-making over its borders and many other powers, and thereby its own destiny. Additionally, the UK is a net contributor to the EU and what money we do receive back must be spent in a way dictated by the EU. We could instead, as an independent sovereign nation, spend more wisely ourselves an amount equivalent to our existing EU contributions. We can potentially ensure that those parts of our country, Universities, farming and cultural sectors that have in recent times qualified for EU funds can be considered as recipients of similar assistance via a UK government scheme. This will be of interest in my constituency, which has been entitled to EU Structural Funds under the Convergence Programme – albeit with often unconvincing results.

However, if a vote to leave is to be secured, the campaign will require strong, informed, engaging and reassuring leadership and will need to demonstrate that the following issues have been seriously and effectively considered:

1. The future prospects of continuing free trade agreements within Europe (which countries such as Germany surely need with us as much as vice versa); with other countries as part of existing bilateral agreements with the EU; and how these tie in with commitments we would need to make over employment regulations, free movement and EU budget contributions.

2. The future integrity of the UK, versus the threat of Scottish separation. The SNP supported an “out” vote in 1975 but now strongly advocate continued EU membership. They threaten a second Scottish independence referendum in the event that Scotland votes to remain in the EU and the rest of the UK votes to leave. Could it be that the SNP fear that in an independent UK, its constituent parts would be brought closer together?

3. The future ability of the UK to work closely with other European nations and the international community in general towards important common goals, including the sharing of intelligence to increase our security and protect against common threats.

Should Britain vote to remain in the EU, the concessions won by the Prime Minister following his intense renegotiation efforts will be welcome. The protracted discussions at the recent EU Summit suggest that the policies pursued were of substance. Even so, it is also worth considering that the difficulties in reaching agreement suggest the near-impossibility of our ever being in a position to secure agreement for the fundamental changes many want such as the regaining of border controls.

For me, the arguments for and against remaining in the EU are finely balanced but the end, I believe we need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the true and over-riding EU agenda of ever-closer integration is one we have never shared. While there are some aspects of the EU which suit the UK, we can pursue these in other ways while freeing ourselves of the many aspects which do not.

So, I am minded, although by a relatively small margin, to vote “leave”.

Ultimately, my vote in the referendum will carry no more weight than the vote of any other citizen of our country, and with four months of debate still to go, the views of many may yet change. All are united in wanting what is best for our country – let us hope that the debate to follow is well-informed and focuses on the important issues – not just on mobile phone roaming charges, duty free purchases or the colour of our passports.

James Davies is the MP for Vale of Clwyd.

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