Our MP Gordon Henderson has issued a statement on why he will be voting to leave the EU.
Why I will be voting to leave the EU
Now the date has at last been set for a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union or leave, I very much hope that a sensible, rational public debate can take place based on facts, rather than scare-mongering or xenophobia.
As the Member of Parliament for Sittingbourne and Sheppey I know there are many people in my constituency who would like to know where I stand on the issue. Because of that I think it only right to set out my position, which does not reflect that of the Conservative Party, which is remaining neutral on whether or not Britain should leave the EU
Let me begin by explaining that I am of the last generation to be given an opportunity to vote in a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of what was then the European Economic Community. That referendum was held in 1975 and like many other Britons I voted to remain a member of the EEC because I am a supporter of free trade and a free European market.
I still believe such a trade arrangement is in Britain’s best interests and if the EEC (which became the European Union following the Maastricht Treaty, on which the British Public were never able to vote) was still about the free movement of goods and labour, then I would vote to remain a member.
But sadly, back in 1975 we were lied to. We were told joining the EEC would have no negative impact on Britain because it was only a trade agreement. We now know that the European political elite always had as a long term objective: total economic and political union. Their dream was, and still is, a Federal United States of Europe.
The European Union of which we are being asked to remain a member no longer restricts itself to trade matters. It affects every aspect of British life. It has taken from our Westminster Parliament (which, remember, is the Mother of all parliaments) power to legislate in many areas, including justice, policing, taxation, the environment or agriculture.
There will be some who criticise the Prime Minister’s efforts to negotiate a different relationship with the EU and some who are disappointed with the outcome. I neither criticise Mr Cameron nor am I disappointed. I think it was perfectly proper to attempt such negotiations, although I never held out hope of any meaningful change, which is why I am not disappointed that he had such little success.
The negotiations were in many ways an irrelevance; the most important aspect of the whole charade was Mr Cameron’s promise (which was included in the Conservative manifesto at the last General Election, and on which I stood) that he would hold an In/Out Referendum following those negotiations. There were many people who doubted he would ever hold that referendum, so I think he should be congratulated for delivering on his promise and I hope the doubters have the good grace to concede at least that much.
At that referendum I will be campaigning and voting for Britain to leave the EU and I will be urging my constituents to do the same.
To those who worry that leaving the EU might result in Britain losing jobs I would point out that in the last couple of years we have created more jobs than the rest of the EU put together. Does anybody really believe that being a member of the EU helped us to create those jobs?
Of course many of those jobs have been taken by migrants from other EU countries. Let me be frank. In that European free market in which we voted to remain a member back in 1975 the underlying principle is the free movement of goods and labour.
We have always had foreign workers from other European countries working in Britain, even before we joined the EU. Just think of the number of French, Italian and Spanish waiters that have always been employed in our restaurants.
So should we leave the EU any bilateral trade agreements that might be made with our European neighbours would no doubt still provide for the free movement of labour.
The difference of course, is that a Britain outside the EU could dictate the terms of how and when such workers can come to our country, whereas as a member of the EU we have to follow its rules, and as has been seen by Mr Cameron’s negotiations it is almost impossible to get the other members to change those rules to any significant degree.
Another reason to ignore the scare stories about British workers losing their jobs if we leave the EU is the amount of trade Britain does with other EU countries. We currently import more from the EU than we export. It is highly unlikely that if we leave the EU the Germans will refuse to sell us cars, the French, wine and the Spanish tomatoes. Those countries, and all the others who export to us, would fall over themselves to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with Britain, however, we would also be able to negotiate similar deals with other non EU countries, which currently we cannot do.
Our relationship with the EU is complicated and I appreciate many people will be torn when it comes to making up their minds at the Referendum. For me it boils down to one thing. Sovereignty. Who rules us?
There have been some who say that leaving the EU will harm our national security. My own view is that the reverse is the case. There are currently many thousands of migrants on mainland Europe. We see the chaos on our television screens every day. Eventually many of those migrants will be given citizenship of the country in which they seek refuge. When that happens they will have immediate access to Britain. They will be able to travel to our country without hindrance.
Some have estimated that amongst those migrants there are 5000 Jihadist fanatics. Personally I do not subscribe to those claims, which are difficult to substantiate. However, there is little doubt that some of those migrants would be a threat to Britain’s security if they managed to come to our country. Remaining in the EU makes that easier and more likely, particularly if those fanatics were granted citizenship by an EU country.
Going back to the EEC, I accept that if you have a free trade agreement, a Common Market if you like, there have to be procedures in place to ensure all members of that market abide by the rules. That is what the European Commission was set up to do and I have no problem with having such a body, in which the commissioners are appointed by the national governments to ensure a level playing field.
But I fell out with the EU when it decided to set up its own parliament, have its own flag and its own national anthem. That to me was a step too far because it demonstrated clearly the ambition of the European political establishment to have its own country.
It was also pretty obvious that a European Parliament would suck power from the national parliaments of those states who joined the EU, such as Westminster. I was right and there are now few areas of government policy over which the EU has no influence.
Our lack of real sovereignty is encapsulated by a very small issue: sanitary products for women. Currently the Government charges 5% VAT on items such as tampons. Following a national campaign by women in Britain last year MPs lobbied the Chancellor to scrap the “tampon tax”. George Osborne was very sympathetic but explained that he could not scrap the 5% VAT without the permission of the EU.
That one example of the way in which Britain has to go cap in hand to get permission for such a relatively minor issue highlights the way in which our national sovereignty has been eroded by our membership of the EU and lies at the very heart of the Referendum that takes place on 23rd June.
During the next few months, as the Referendum grows ever closer, the people in Sittingbourne and Sheppey will be bombarded by propaganda and conflicting “facts”. Many will be confused and will still find it difficult to make up their mind.
To those people I would simply say is this: ignore all the complicated arguments because the only decision you need to make is a simple one.
Do you want the laws of our land to be drafted by elected representatives who sit in a European Parliament that reflects also the views of 27 other countries? If the answer to that question is yes, then you should vote “remain”.
Or, do you prefer to have the laws of our land drafted by representatives who you elect to a Westminster Parliament that reflects the views only of the countries that make up the United Kingdom? If that is your position, then vote “leave”.
That is what I will be doing.
Gordon Henderson MP – Sittingbourne and Sheppey.