It’s over 40 years since the British people have had their say on whether Britain should be in or out of Europe. The proposition is different now from 1975, but the decision is no less momentous. There will be far-reaching consequences for the UK whichever way we go.
So I do not make my choice lightly. I only have one vote but I recognise that as I’m an MP, people want to know where I stand. My job gives me the chance to directly question leaders on both sides, and opportunities to influence others who have yet to make up their minds. Again, it’s not a responsibility I take lightly.
The question is which option will give Britain a better future. Which will mean a better future for students soon to leave college or university? Which will be better for children still at school, like my own? Which is more likely to mean they can get well-paid jobs? Live in peace? Enjoy the countryside I cherish? Be part of an optimistic society and share the pride I feel in being British?
There is no obvious right answer. I instinctively dislike the bureaucracy of the European Union - its waste and profligacy, and its presumptuous intrusion on our sovereignty. But there are definite downsides to going it alone, not least great uncertainty. Many of the farmers I represent are seriously worried about the future of UK agriculture outside the EU. This is not a decision to be made on instinct, but through a serious consideration of the potential outcomes of either choice.
Being able to trade freely with EU countries brings enormous economic benefits. If we leave the EU we will likely still want to be part of the world’s biggest single market. On the other hand, that involves letting Brussels make rules that we have only a small influence over. Across the country, people are angry because they feel politicians aren’t listening. When decisions are made in Brussels rather than UK Parliaments, this sense of the remoteness and aloofness of power is heightened. I take this very seriously. There will always be some people who want a different style of government, but this anger and disenfranchisement seems to have reached a new level. Would withdrawing from the EU restore peoples’ connection with Government and pride in a Britain that’s in charge of its own destiny?
In the coming weeks, both sides have work to do to make their case. From the Leave side, we need to hear much more about what our future would look like outside the EU. What would Britain’s new relationship with Europe be; would we get a better deal than Norway for instance? What trade terms will we be able to agree with non-EU countries and how long will that take? What concessions would we make to secure those deals, and while we might regain Parliamentary sovereignty, will we actually end up with less power and influence internationally? And what would leaving the EU really mean for migration and security? There needs to be a clear plan, rather than asking people to vote for ‘the grass is greener’ outside the EU.
In the days ahead I will be asking these questions and considering the arguments. As I reach my decision, I will share my reasoning. That way, those who disagree with me will at least know why, and those as-yet undecided may find my deliberations helpful in reaching their own decision.
Who knows when we will get another chance to change our relationship with Europe - let’s make sure we vote for a better future for the UK on 23rd June.