I have decided to vote for Britain to remain in the European Union. There are pros and cons of staying and going – anyone who sets it out as ‘cut and dried’ is mistaken – but on balance, I believe we are better off ‘in’.
The question I asked myself is ‘which option will give Britain a better future?’ Which option means we will be more prosperous, peaceful and proud of being British?
I believe that as an EU member, we’re more likely to enjoy economic growth. That means more, better paid jobs for British workers. It means more opportunities for the next generation of school leavers. It means a higher standard of living and more money to spend on public services, like the NHS.
A weaker economy would make it harder to maintain spending on defence – just one of the reasons why leaving would make us less secure. Our leaving would also destabilise the EU. Relations between some EU countries are strained and economies have faltered, but that’s not a reason to abandon the EU. On the contrary, that’s a reason for us to step up. History tells us that trouble in mainland Europe is sure to involve us eventually.
This is a question of what sort of country we are, and want to be in the future. I want us to be outward-looking, playing an influential role in the world – as we have been for centuries. Very practically, the EU expands horizons; it’s easier to travel, study, work and do business across borders within the EU. As a member of the EU we can bring other countries round to our way of thinking, and have more influence in the world.
Though we see many differences between ourselves and other EU countries, we have shared values of liberal democracy. In the past we’ve thought this was the direction the rest of the world was going in, but the last two decades have shown otherwise. We need to work together with our fellow European democracies.
I’m proud of Britain’s reputation in the world. We’re respected for our values, integrity and collective conscience. Many countries seek to emulate our Parliament and our democratic system. Leaving the EU sends the wrong message to the world about Britain; it says that we think it’s better to go it alone. And it says that when things get tricky, we walk away. That's not the sort of country I want us to be. Britain should be an optimistic country playing an influential role in the world, and that means being part of the EU and leading it from the front.
Being part of the single market, able to trade freely with EU countries, brings enormous economic benefits. Almost half of our exports - 44% - go to EU countries. Having access to a market of 500 million customers makes Britain more attractive to international investors. For many global companies, we are a gateway to the EU - a good location for a European HQ - which in turn means jobs for thousands of British people. Leaving would put many of these jobs at risk. For example, Toyota has warned it will make significant cutbacks to its UK operations and HSBC has indicated it might move around 1,000 jobs to France in the event of a Brexit.
As a member of the EU, we have influence over the regulations which underpin the single market, and we use that influence to prevent our businesses being disadvantaged. We can’t always get what we want, but we are able to fight our corner and contribute our expertise. In healthcare for example, the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is highly respected, and its push for greater transparency in clinical trials is reflected in EU legislation. The European Medicines Agency is based in London, which also increases our influence on medicines regulation. This in turn helps our life sciences industry, a growth sector critical to our future as a knowledge-based economy.
I represent many farmers in Faversham and Mid Kent, and agriculture is an important part of the local economy. For most, subsidies through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy [CAP] provide significant income. While I’m no fan of subsidies (and nor are farmers in my experience), a level playing field is important. Not all farmers are pro-EU, but many I’ve spoken to are concerned about the combination of uncertainty, loss of access to the single market and loss of influence over EU regulations if we leave.
Regulation is often paraded as the baddie in EU debates, but many regulations are useful. Agreeing common product standards means a manufacturer can produce one product for the whole of the EU market, rather than many different versions. Health and Safety regulations are often criticised, but they’ve resulted in a big decline in industrial accidents. For example, in 2014/15 half as many people were fatally injured at work compared to 20 years ago. I recently asked Shepherd Neame, the largest employer in my constituency, if they would get rid of EU health and safety regulations. The answer I got was no – industrial processes are dangerous, and they would choose to have the standards demanded by current regulations.
Some Leave campaigners take the view that European markets aren’t important – what really matters is our trade with the US, China, India and so on. Our largest export market outside the EU is the US, where we exported £84bn worth of goods and services in 2014 – but that’s dwarfed by over £200bn exports to EU countries. Our exports to India that year were worth £8.6bn, Australia £8.5bn and Canada £6.4bn. Would this change if we were outside the EU and built closer trading relationships with those countries? That’s highly uncertain and a huge gap to bridge. The reality is that the EU is 20 miles away, compared to the thousands of miles between us and the US, Canada and the markets of Asia.
If we leave, not only will there be a recession during the uncertain period of negotiation, but there will also be a long term reduction in economic growth. In practice, that means fewer jobs, less well paid. It means fewer opportunities for future school leavers, a lower standard of living and less money to spend on public services like the NHS and social care. The Treasury estimates tax receipts would fall by £20-45 billion. This economic cost far outweighs the £8.5 billion saved if we no longer have to contribute to the EU budget.
Leaving the EU increases the risk to our national security, making future generations less likely to enjoy peace and stability.
Though we worry about terrorist attacks, I suspect we take the peace we enjoy too much for granted. Very directly, with lower economic growth we will have less money to spend on defence and intelligence. This would reduce our international influence and make us less safe.
There is also a risk that Britain leaving the EU will destabilise Europe. I’ve heard people say; “look at Greece… look at what’s happening at all the borders…we would be better off out of it”. But we live in a connected world, and we cannot just pull up our drawbridge and ignore what goes on the other side of the channel. If Europe gets into trouble, we will be affected.
Countries facing common threats need to work together. We may have our differences with other members of the EU, but there is more that unites us than divides us - including our commitment to liberal democracy. We can’t take it for granted that the rest of the world shares our views or that Europe’s future as a hub of peaceful democracy is secure: we need to work together to defend and promote our values.
As a Kent MP, I am mindful of the practical question of border security, which many ‘Leavers’ argue the EU compromises. From my own research, I disagree. The strength of our border at Calais depends on us working closely with the French. I don’t suggest we’ll necessarily see the border move back to Dover if we leave as that is a bi-lateral agreement, but leaving the EU clearly won’t help that relationship. Effective sharing of intelligence across-borders is critical for tracking and picking-up terrorists; again, I don’t suggest we’d stop sharing intelligence if we leave the EU, but this is facilitated by being part of it.
Then there’s the question of what sort of country we’ll be in future, and how leaving will affect our international role and reputation.
We are an outward looking country, a nation with a great history of trade, and of exporting our institutions and culture. Speaking to politicians in other countries, I am often reminded that they look to the UK as an example.
I anticipate leaving will reduce our standing in the world. If we have a weaker economy and reduced armed forces, we’ll find our influence wanes. Though we’ll still have a voice through NATO, we’d no longer have a voice through the EU, and far less ability to bring our EU partners with us on questions like when to impose sanctions. As an MP, one factor in my ability to get things done is whether I can bring colleagues with me. On the global scale, you need to persuade other countries that a course of action is the right one.
How we’re seen around the world is important. I’ve been greeted in many countries with respect and warmth simply because I’m British. Leaving the EU will affect our reputation, and to my mind, it sends a message that we think we are better ‘going it alone’. I think the opposite is the case; we need to be working ever more closely with other nations on the shared challenges of limited resources, conflict, terrorism, migration, climate change and so on. These problems have no borders, so we must collaborate to tackle them. The prospect of states becoming more insular and more focused on exclusive national interests is alarming. We must be careful not to send a message to the world that this is the way forward.
I don’t suggest for a minute that the EU is perfect - far from it. It suffers from a substantial democratic deficit. Few people know who their MEPs are, let alone keep an eye on what they are up to. The EU is bureaucratic and wasteful, exemplified in the administration’s alternation between Brussels and Strasbourg. It is overly eager to regulate. Some regulations, driven by the agendas of other EU countries, are not ones we would wish for. Being a member means accepting some rules set outside our borders – giving up a bit of sovereignty, albeit a normal consequence of any international agreement. The EU has been slow to agree trade deals with other countries. And migration, partly as a result of ‘free movement of peoples’, has put enormous stresses on infrastructure and social cohesion. While the economy has benefitted, many British workers have seen their wages depressed.
Yet its shortcomings don’t mean it makes sense to leave. No system is perfect. The question is, which is better when you weigh the options up. Some of these deficiencies we can influence if we remain a member. The International Law Agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister in its own right will lead to some significant reforms – for instance, a drive within the EU to cut red tape and complete trade deals. We are also excluded from the ambition of ever closer union, and protected from discrimination as a non-Euro country. I anticipate there will be more reforms in future, but I recognise that we have talked about reforming the EU for as long as I can remember, so I don’t plan to vote to Remain on this basis.
I will vote to remain because I believe Britain will be better off ‘in’, and because being part of the EU is the choice of an optimistic country that works with other nations to lead the world.