5th July 2013
Like so many of my constituents, I am unhappy with Britain’s current relationship with the European Union. I firmly believe it has to change. I am delighted that the Prime Minister now wants to renegotiate our membership of the EU and put that deal to the British people in an in/out referendum.
The EU costs Britain too much money and it does not spend the money it has wisely. Brussels has too much power and meddles too much in our daily lives.
I want Britain to be part of a free-trading Europe of sovereign nations, like the EEC we joined in 1973. If the Conservative Party is reelected in 2015, David Cameron has promised a referendum by the end of 2017, following a period of renegotiation on our terms of membership. I think that it is now time for us to discuss what powers should be brought back to Britain as part of these negotiations.
In my view this should include:
- Regaining control of Employment and Social Legislation – This would include the permanent opt-out of legislation such as the European Working Time Directive. If we want real economic growth then businesses need to be cut free from the red tape and regulation that is so often dreamt up in the corridors of Brussels and then gold plated by our own civil servants.
- Common Defence and Foreign Policies – The right to set a foreign and defence policy should remain solely with the Member States. The EU is not a sovereign state and should not pretend to be. It is the shield of NATO that has protected British interests for over 60 years and I see no need for that to change now.
- Looking again at the Common Fisheries Policy –The Common Fisheries Policy has failed both fishermen and fish stocks. While important reforms have been made which will almost abolish discards, it would be far better if national waters were managed exclusively by the member states.
- Review and reform the right of EU citizens to claim Social Security in the UK. It isn’t right that people from other EU countries can move to Britain and then have automatic access to our benefits and welfare systems. I believe that EU migrants should have to pay into our national Insurance system for at least 2 years before they are able to claim from it.
- Opting out of Home Affairs and Immigration Legislation – I don’t believe the EU should have any say in our immigration and asylum system. I also want us to opt out of measures such as the European Arrest Warrant. I believe that before a British citizen is extradited to a foreign judicial system the evidence should be presented before our own courts to establish whether there is a case to answer.
It is rather ironic that whilst the European Arrest Warrant means that a UK citizen can be deported to any other EU country without the British courts being able to intervene, those same courts do regularly intervene to prevent the removal of foreigners that Britain wants rid of. I am referring of course to the long and painful saga of Abu Qatada whom successive Home Secretaries have tried to deport to Jordan. Although the European Convention of Human Rights and the Court of Human Rights are unconnected to the EU, they are invariably lumped into the same category - if only because they begin with the word ‘European’.
The UK joined the ECHR in 1953 in an effort to protect fundamental rights following the atrocities of the Second World War. The problem we now face is that judicial activism by the ECHR means the Court's remit is constantly expanding. Thus the right to free elections enshrined in 1953 has become, 60 years later, the right of prisoners to vote. In my view it is wrong that such a policy should be decided anywhere other than in the UK Parliament.
The solution is to introduce a British Bill of Rights which would give British Judges clear guidelines as to how they should interpret the European Convention. This was part of the Conservative Party manifesto in 2010, but alas our coalition partners don't like the idea.
I recognise the role that the EU has played in reconciling former war time enemies, and the way in which it has helped cement democracy in the former soviet states. If the EU spent less of our money, did less and did it rather better it would be a good deal more popular.
I fully support the Prime Minister's aim of reforming the EU. If we are able to repatriate substantial powers back to Britain then I believe that a majority of British people will be content to remain within the EU. However if the negotiations fail, then we shouldn’t be afraid to leave.