I wanted to update readers of The Lincolnite on a significant policy development following a speech by the Prime Minister about a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union (EU). As you may know, I have been calling on the Government to grant the British people a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU since my election to Parliament in May 2010 and have taken every opportunity vote for this, when the matter has been put before the House of Commons.
The EU is in the grip of change. Internally, the single currency is driving a major shift in its structure. Externally, the global race that is underway is showing up Europe’s lack of competitiveness against leaner, more dynamic economies in the East and South. These changes are set against increasing unease amongst the people of Europe about the direction the EU is going in; the powers it is taking on and what this means for them.
I believe the Government therefore needs to negotiate a better settlement for Britain in the EU. The best way to achieve this would be in a new Treaty that makes the changes needed to resolve the crisis in the Eurozone, while at the same time protecting the interests of those outside the Eurozone, and driving forward reform for all.
This new settlement should be rigorously focused on what matters to the peoples of Europe: competitiveness; flexibility and fairness for all Member States, whether inside the Eurozone or out of it; more respect for national democracies; and crucially, this new settlement must make clear that powers should be able to flow back to Member States, not just away from them.
I am in favour of seeking fresh consent from the British people for this new settlement in a referendum. To this end, I am pleased that the Prime Minister has announced that the next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament. It will be a relationship with the single market at its heart. We will then give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice – stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out of it altogether. It will be an in-out referendum hopefully within the first half of the next Parliament.
When the referendum comes, provided the Government can negotiate a settlement that is good for Britain, then I will campaign strongly for it because I believe that Britain’s national interest is best served in a reformed, flexible, adaptable and open EU. I do not accept that we have that position now, nor that we might have that position with ‘a little tinkering at the edges’ – we need wholescale reform to make the EU work for nations and individuals in a better way than it does now.