The Prime Minister has a good record on the EU: he is the only PM ever to have brought a power back to the UK which had been previously ceded to the EU; he is the only leader ever to secure a cut in the EU budget; and the only one to veto an EU treaty. Furthermore, the only reason that we are having a referendum at all, is because David Cameron campaigned on the basis of a manifesto commitment to do so at the last election.
A number of my Eurosceptic colleagues have been very critical of the package that the PM has renegotiated. I believe that he has secured a significant change: the removal of the UK from the treaty obligation to ‘ever closer union’ is an important marker for the future when this legally binding change is incorporated into the next EU treaty. In its effect it will give us a new and different status within the EU. Were we to vote to remain in the EU we would do so under more favourable terms than we have at present.
EU migrant access to UK benefits was one of the areas where the PM was not as successful in the renegotiation as he originally hoped. He has improved the situation, but the new agreement does not match his original ambition. My fundamental problem is that he had to ask at all. The rules that govern the receipt of benefits in the UK, funded by the UK exchequer, ought to be the exclusive prerogative of our own UK Parliament, and not a matter for horse trading at the EU Council.
All sorts of terrors will be threatened in an attempt to persuade us to stay. In the long term however, our prosperity will depend on our competitiveness, and I am confident that outside the EU we have the ability to deliver greater competitiveness than we can within it. Of course, there are risks about leaving, but I believe that the risks are greater if we stay.
This is not a new position that I have arrived at. Regular readers of this column will know that I voted to leave the Common Market in 1975. So many of my constituents complain that back then they were duped: that they thought that it was just about trade, and they only discovered later that it was a political project that, amongst other things, would rob us of the power to decide who can live in the UK and claim benefits here. Nobody can legitimately claim ignorance this time around.
The PM urged Members of Parliament to decide the issue on the basis of their conscience and not to be swayed by party activists, and I will certainly obey him in that respect. Fundamentally I want to live in an independent country that can reach its own decisions, and control its own borders. We cannot do so in important respects so long as we remain in the EU. I will be voting to leave. Hopefully, second time lucky.