Category Archives: EU Referendum
It’s gone on a long time: important, frustrating, emotional; and a source of endless argument. It is the Referendum – and many of my constituents are still unsure which way to vote. I break the issues into five: the Big Picture, Money, Security, Sovereignty and Immigration.
The Big Picture. I believe we need as many friends and allies as possible: in the UN Security Council, at the heart of the Commonwealth, the G7 & NATO, in a special relationship with the US, a strategic partnership with China, very close to Ireland – and a member of the EU. We are smaller by losing any of these.
And our history is one of tremors from quakes on the continent. We’ve often had to intervene and make war to keep the peace, and above all keep the balance of power – preventing dominance by any one country, which is always bad for us. Whether against Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler or Russian communism, we’ve teamed up with a coalition of the willing to stop them – like the Welsh archers, Eugene of Savoy, Blucher and the Polish and Commonwealth airmen. England has never fought alone in Europe.
Money. Almost everyone, including the leading Brexiters, recognise there’ll be a hit if we leave, as sterling drops, inflation rises and interest rates and mortgages go up. The markets have already shown what they can do. I worry about how quickly things would recover, how long it would take to replace the 53 Free Trade Agreements the EU already has, and the long term impact of trade duties on e.g. our aerospace exports to Airbus in Toulouse. Short term this would inevitably lead to less tax revenue for the NHS and other public services – and for how long we just don’t know.
Security. There is no single global policeman today. We need maximum co-operation against e.g. terrorists, especially with our nearest neighbours. Our security could not be increased by acting more alone, without the European Arrest Warrant, or by having the refugee camps at Calais moved to Dover. Home to GCHQ and the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), in Gloucestershire we know the value of partnerships and sharing information carefully.
Of course immigration and sovereignty are also argued over. I hear comments like ‘I want my country back’, ‘our infrastructure can’t cope’ and ‘so many of our jobs are taken by foreigners’. Nor can these just be dismissed. We must make our own decisions in our own Parliament: but we can also accept legislation e.g. to protect workers’ rights, improve our beaches and water that came from the EU: 14% of our total laws. And when it comes to sovereignty I see no advantage to business in not having a voice at the table on decisions that affect almost half of our exports.
Ultimately, I don’t see leaving the EU will solve immigration – are we going to ask weekending French to apply for a visa, or a German engineer visiting his business here to apply for a work permit? No. Or if yes, then increase the cost of leaving as we axe cheap flights to Europe, many jobs at airports and across the travel industry.
In a nutshell if we want free trade then we pay the club sub and accept free movement to work – we just lose any role in decisions. If we don’t want free trade then watch out for the hit to jobs and the 75% of tax from business.
If we want the surest prospects of future jobs for our children then let’s make the European partnership work, recognising some compromise in all partnerships. And if we’re concerned about immigration and pressures on schools etc then yes, push at us MPs to do more – taking out from the stats students who pay for our universities would make sense – but leaving the EU is not a solution to that. Ultimately the complete lack of detail about what the Leave campaign would do is a huge risk, and although safety is not as sexy as risk, this is a risk I wouldn’t recommend at all.
I hosted the Rt Hon Theresa May MP in Gloucester to talk about the ‘Realities of Brexit’. She said that a ‘vote to remain is a vote for our future’ and I agree. Afterwards I spoke to the BBC and the Gloucester Citizen, answering their questions about the EU Referendum. Here are some of my answers.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right on two points that in my view no one should be in any doubt about. First, trade is absolutely critical. All the countries with which I and all the other trade envoys deal are in no doubt that we will do much better with them by being within the European Union rather than outside it. I am also in no doubt that the 53 agreements that the European Union has entered into would take a very long time to replicate—if, indeed, that could be done at all. Lastly, on inward investment, I am also in no doubt that a wave of foreign direct investment that could come here is being held up at the moment as a result of uncertainty.
I want to write of a common misconception about the government’s role in the EU Referendum. It’s one which several angry constituents who want to Leave the EU have written to me about, and their argument goes like this:
• It is simply not fair, and indeed is quite wrong, that the government is spending money and promoting its views to Remain in the EU
• The government should be neutral, run a Referendum without a view and apart from the technical details of running an election should keep quiet
So let me deal with these points.
First the starting point. My party promised in our manifesto in the General Election of 2015 that, if elected, we would legislate for a Referendum, and that the Cabinet would then take a view on the position of the government.
We won the election and we have stuck with our word: the Referendum was legislated for and the Cabinet voted about 25-7 that the position of the government was to Remain. The Cabinet also agreed we would first re-negotiate for a better settlement and then hold the Referendum. And the PM said that those in the Cabinet who wanted to campaign to Leave could do so without resigning from the Cabinet.
So that is exactly what has happened, entirely correctly and honourably. It is simply wrong to imagine that the government is a disinterested, entirely neutral observer in which its only role is to oversee a Referendum process.
The result will have an enormous impact on Britain’s place in the world, and the argument is which direction is better for our country and our future. On something so important it would be absurd for the government of the day not to have a clear view on about what is best for Britain. The government strongly believes that we should stay IN the EU: and is campaigning to get that result.
No-one should complain about this, and there is nothing ‘unfair’, or illegal and there is also a clear precedent, which is what Prime Minister Wilson and his government did in the Referendum in 1975 (and no-one complained about that).
When the Referendum is over NO-ONE should complain about the result: whether the process, the role of the government, the unfair influence of the BBC, the unwanted interference of our allies, multilateral partners, or anything else.
At that stage the UK will need to make a success of our role in Europe, whether or not a member of the EU – so that our trade is a undamaged as possible, our political relationships as productive as possible and so that we are ready, together, to deal with whatever comes our way – Putin, terrorists, refugees, energy shortages, natural disasters and yet unknown other threats to our security.
I will be campaigning to stay in, and will be writing more about why, but I will avoid arguments with constituents who take the opposite view. Let’s keep any differences of opinion respectful.
Let the best view win!
Richard Graham: The EU has preferential trade agreements with 53 countries, including high-growth Asian nations such as Vietnam and Korea, where I believe the benefits have boosted British trade by some £2 billion a year, and talks with Indonesia and the Philippines start soon. Will my right hon. Friend explain whether we would easily be able to replicate those 53 agreements in the case of Brexit and how long that would take?
Minister of State for Europe (David Lidington): May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he does as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the ASEAN — Association of Southeast Asian Nations — region? I agree with him that the record shows that alternative trade agreements would take years to negotiate and there would be no guarantee whatsoever that we could obtain terms that were anything like as good as those that we enjoy through the European Union today.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Some argue that we will be able to forge better deals across the world by leaving the European Union, but in the three years that I have been a trade envoy I have not yet met a single representative of any of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that believes our trade and investment prospects would be better if we left the EU. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that the referendum is not about whether we should do business with Europe or with the rest of the world, but about the fact that we should and must do business with both, as we are, and that those with whom we most want a free trade agreement will always prioritise the EU?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend puts it in absolutely the right way. It is not an either/or. We are expanding our trade in south-east Asia—we have doubled our trade with China since I became Prime Minister—but I am struck, as he is, by the fact that countries are not saying, “Get out of the EU and sign a trade deal with us”. They are saying, “Stick in the EU and make sure it signs a trade deal, because it will be bigger and it will be better.”
25th February 2016
So it’s going to happen, and we now have a date as well. On the 23rd June our nation votes on staying or leaving the European Union. What does it all mean?
The first and easiest thing is that the government has delivered on our election manifesto commitments of a Referendum Act, a re-negotiation and then the Referendum itself. Those who said that the Conservatives wouldn’t deliver a Referendum and you couldn’t trust David Cameron have been proved wrong.
Then there is the substance of the re-negotiation. Many said that we wouldn’t be able to get out of an ever closer union, wouldn’t be able to legislate to protect us as a non-Eurozone country, can’t get the EU to focus on business, and couldn’t deliver any changes to welfare benefit or immigration control. The Prime Minister’s re-negotiation has addressed all of those, although there are different interpretations of his success.
Some say the deal is not legally binding: that the European Court of Justice can unpick it all because it’s not a treaty. The President of the EU says no, the deal is binding, the ECJ must take it into account and the deal will go for legal ratification. His and the PM’s view is supported by both our current and former Attorney Generals. No doubt the argument about sovereignty will continue for the next four months.
The renegotiation includes an emergency brake on working benefits (tax credits), which can be banned for four years, and curbs on child benefit, restricted to the rate of the country where the children are living. At the same time the importance of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is enhanced by our new ability to control our borders – banning EU passport holders whom we suspect of sham marriages, or of criminal intentions, or even of preventing our policy objectives (which can include, for example, employment goals). Some are cynical about what difference this will make, but these stronger safeguards are why Theresa May, a noted EU sceptic, is supporting the In Europe for Britain team. The campaign is also backed by many generals who all say that leaving the EU now, at a time of great insecurity and heightened risk (especially with Russia), would be a bad mistake: they urge voters to vote to back our membership to protect our national security.
Then there is the trade and diplomacy element. The Prime Minister said we are out of the euro, Eurozone bailouts, the ever closer union, and any European Army, and have agreed the EU should move faster to implement Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Some who support Leave EU claim that pulling out would stimulate business with the ‘new world’ i.e. the Commonwealth, Asia and Africa: freed from Europe we would forge ahead with a snowstorm of new free trade agreements.
Now I have serious reservations about many aspects of the EU. I do find some EU legislation frustrating, the power of the ECJ tiresome. I’m not convinced of its strategy for our continent. But on trade, I part company with the Leave EU campaign. In three years as a Trade Envoy to SE Asia, and much longer living and working in Asia and Africa in both business and diplomacy, I have not yet met a representative of any of the 10 SE Asian countries who thinks it would help Britain to be outside the EU: or that a bilateral trade deal is waiting to happen as soon as we leave the EU. It is not. In fact, our friends want to see us at the heart of Europe. We already have 33 FTAs via the EU and several more in the pipeline. Leaving the EU would mean going to the back of the queue and patiently re-negotiating a lot of EU deals, let alone other agreements. We would probably get there – but how long would that take? Our bilateral FTA with Jamaica took, from memory, about 14 years.
The US Trade Representative highlighted the risk by saying this week that the US was not in the business of bilateral FTAs and that he wanted to see Britain playing a key role in the FTA with Europe (the TTP) as soon as possible. So, far from holding us back from doing deals with the US, India and China, our role In Europe for Britain increases our ability to get the trade deals we want – and the recent EU FTA with Vietnam is a good example. All of our friends want us to stay in the EU: the only leader in favour of Brexit is Putin. I wonder why.
Meanwhile no country not in the EU has been able to negotiate free trade with the EU without paying for the privilege or accepting free and open movement. What is the model for this that the Leave Campaign recommends? The model of Norway, where they have no seat at the table but have to comply with all EU legislation, is not a good model. The Swedish Conservative leader said “if you want to rule Europe, be in the EU: if you want to be ruled by the EU, leave it”. And I’m not convinced that the reduced free trade between Switzerland, in an agreement which took 8 years to negotiate, while Switzerland has had to accept large numbers of EU immigrants, is attractive either. Those who argue that we import more than we export, and therefore that the EU will obviously want to sign an FTA, are being naïve. They forget firstly that we generate a significant surplus from our services, which many EU countries would like to reduce or prevent, and secondly, the inevitable temptation for the EU to make life difficult for us after we have left the EU. Already the noises from the French about whether the bilateral agreement on refugees in Calais would continue after Brexit highlights potential risks for us.
If there are real risks for us from leaving, I am also clear that voting to Leave means just that. There will be no second Referendum, no chance of another re-negotiation: two years for sorting the details of Brexit, and when that’s over we would be out. For ever.
So this is the most binary vote of our lifetimes. In elections, if we vote for an individual or a party and come to regret either, there is always a chance to vote them out next time round. But this Referendum will settle our membership of the EU once and for all.
As the two sides line up, there is one other voice that will speak – the markets. Already sterling has dropped to its lowest level for seven years, and Moody’s the rating agency predicted a drop in the UK’s credit rating. A shrinking pound means we pay more for our imports and pushes up the cost of living for most, while our credit rating determines the cost of our debt. It leads to the government paying more when it borrows – and we are a gigantic borrower. Paying more interest means less money for the NHS and care, and leads to higher mortgage costs. The bottom line is that markets like stability, not risk and uncertainty, and if it looks as if Britain is going to Leave, markets will get rougher.
So I hope that all my constituents will think hard about the big issues of sovereignty, law making, immigration, benefits and control of our borders: and practical issues of what is better for us – what will make us more secure from terrorists, more likely to succeed in tackling climate change (e.g. floods), more likely to provide jobs for our children and grandchildren, to grow our exports of goods and services, and succeed as a nation.
On all of these issues there are arguments both ways. I will not argue with those who reach the conclusion that it is best for us to leave the EU. But my own conclusion is that we are Better off Together, better in a reformed relationship with the EU that the Prime Minister has achieved (and which many in the Netherlands and Germany are now looking at with envy). So last night I joined the launch of the Europe for Britain campaign.
This referendum is not an election, and it’s not about me. I’ve just tried to frame the questions that I think matter, and offered my own thoughts. From here on this is about YOU. There will be lots written and said, and there is time enough for us all to be very glad when the Referendum is over. The result, nonetheless, will define what Britain is and will be, and I will try to answer any queries as best I can, and as objectively as possible. But I will not be neutral when the time comes,and I hope that all of my readers, whatever your views, do go out and vote on June 23rd.