I firmly believe that the government needs to negotiate a better settlement for Britain in the European Union. The best way to achieve this, in my opinion, 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 of the single currency.
This new settlement should be rigorously focused on what matters to the people 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, a recognition that powers should be able to flow back to member states, not just away from them.
I am therefore pleased that the Prime Minister has announced that the next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people to negotiate a new settlement with the UK’s European partners in the next Parliament. Once this has been achieved, there is then a commitment to hold an in-out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU – a policy I have long advocated and have been urging the Government to adopt since my election to Parliament in 2010.
To signal its intention on this matter, the Conservative Party published a draft bill to legislate for this referendum before the end of 2017. It is being brought to the House of Commons by James Wharton MP as a Private Member’s Bill, and will be debated in the House of Commons when it receives its Second Reading on Friday, July 5.
As you may know, the Labour Leader Ed Miliband has told his MPs to abstain from a vote on the Bill, making clear yet again that he is too weak to give the public a say. I know there are Labour MPs who want an EU referendum, and I would urge them to ignore their ineffectual leader, back the Bill, and let the British people decide.
I understand that some people disagree with this plan and share the view of those who say that the Government is putting a question mark over Britain’s place in Europe. My response is simple: the question mark is there anyway. Those who refuse to contemplate consulting the British people would only make more likely our eventual exit. That is why I am in favour of a referendum.
I also recognise that other people believe we need a straight in-out referendum and argue we should hold one now. I understand the impatience, but a vote today between the status quo and leaving would be a false choice. It is wrong to ask people to stay before the Government has had a chance to put our relationship with Europe right, and while the EU is still in flux.
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.