Today is the day to vote in the referendum. This is a plea for you to vote, whatever your position.
We have a choice as to what sort of future we see for our country. A century ago, British, Commonwealth and other European troops were battling in the trenches to give Europe a free future. Just over 2 decades later, the same nations were fighting to free Europe from Hitler’s conquests.
Democracy is a valuable gift, paid for around the world with lives.
Since the Maastricht Treaty, the EU has been a cause of great debate. Bill Cash founded the Maastricht Referendum Campaign (MaRC). Sir James Goldsmith founded the Referendum Party which contested the next general election.
In their own ways, both saw that Maastricht was a turning point in history. What had been labelled as a Common Market became more. Countries across Europe were starting to agree to constrain economic policy. What was an obscure group of paragraphs (article 109 and protocol J) provided not only a path to monetary union in Europe but limitations on how a country could manage itself.
A system was created which expanded influence into foreign policy, military, criminal justice, and judicial cooperation. The middle word was dropped from the title of European Economic Community.
The Referendum Party included candidates and campaigners from all walks of life, all political parties and perhaps most importantly, those who either wanted to stay or leave the new structure. The decision was so big that we believed that the public should have the right to decide our destiny.
Several more integrating treaties and 24 years later, Cameron has given us the opportunity finally to have a referendum. He is asking us to vote to Remain in or Leave a “reformed” EU, before those “reforms” have been ratified.
In order to honour his manifesto pledge, the referendum could have been held any time until next year. Cameron opted to bring this forward with undue haste. His “reforms” amount to mere tinkering around welfare for migrant workers. History will show why he has acted so quickly on “reforms” that do not meet his manifesto pledges.
Did he bring the referendum forward to hide new measures? Did he act quickly to ambush opponents of EU membership? Did he intend to show himself off as a statesman when the United Kingdom hold the presidency of the Council of Ministers in 2017?
In reaching your decision, please remember that this is a vote on whether we see our future on an EU that is committed to ever closer union. This is not a vote on the policies of Cameron/Osborne or Johnson/Gove. It is a vote on whether we wish to share our decision making with the EU or whether you trust our democracy to provide for our future.
Let’s have a look at the arguments
We could start at a number of points. Since Cameron made the focus on his “reform” as welfare benefits for EU migrants, this seems somehow appropriate. If you believe Cameron, those reforms will limit immigration. If you believe Corbyn, we have to embark on infrastructure development to cater for uncontrolled migration. You have the best of both worlds.
The main thrust of the argument in favour has been Project Fear. If you believe that uncertainty will lead to reduced public expenditure, increased unemployment, reduced income (or at least not growing as fast as otherwise), inflation and more, then that is a powerful set of fears, if true.
To believe in Project Fear then we would have to believe that by leaving, our neighbours would oppose a trade deal which maintains the status quo. We have to believe that they would not seek to preserve jobs in their own countries, that they wish to put up barriers to selling us wine, cheese, cars and much more besides.
There are many sound motivations. The argument has existed for years that the EU ensures peace in Europe, after all, the roots of the EU come from linking economies to prevent war. It is legitimate to believe that this has more relevance than the United Nations or NATO.
You may believe that the EU will successfully negotiate trade deals on our behalf and that TTIP will protect the NHS. You may agree that EU regulations are designed for our protection. You may believe that the EU acts as a brake on unprincipled domestic politicians.
On balance, it is your decision to agree that the cost of membership provides enough benefit to ensure that we Remain. You may wish to validate an unreformed EU. Fear is a powerful weapon.
There are so many reasons to justify your decision. First and foremost, perhaps you believe that, however flawed the British political system may be, it is democratic and transparent. We have the choice in changing the direction of our government.
It may be that you have a global outlook, combined with a faith that an innovative culture will allow us to thrive in a bigger society, that by regaining our seat at the World Trade Organisation, we can break down barriers for developing nations and provide markets and relieve poverty. We can even work with Russia on getting Tim Peake into space.
There is also the possibility that you value links to the voluntary Commonwealth, including respect for the lives of those who contributed to freedom in Europe and elsewhere. Indeed, the Commonwealth account for 1/3rd of the world’s population and 1/6th of the world’s economic activity with potential for growth.
You might be voting to Leave despite political bullying from Cameron and Osborne, showing the sort of fighting spirit that Britain is renowned for, the belief that Chariots of Fire, the medal haul from London 2012 and more represent what makes Britain still great.
You may recognise that as, what one authority rank as the 2nd “global” power, the 5th largest economy, G7 member, WTO member, UN Security Council member, the most widely spoken language, we can lead by example, alongside Europe but with a worldwide reach. We have much to offer.
Whether it is the legacy of all that is represented by the Woolsack, pluralist society, the Industrial Revolution, economic thought of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Patrick Minford, even home to Engels and Marx, Britain has always provided a stimulating and radical environment.
Whether it is innovative technology, thought or the quest for the perfect Norfolk Black turkey, Britain has potential and passion for excellence that you can set free. You can be proud to seek opportunity.
Your vote is important. The higher the turnout, the more legitimacy the country gives to whatever decision is reached.
You may wish to consider the mechanism of Article 50. In short, when Parliament passes the decision to Leave, there is a provision for a 2 year transitional period to normalise trading and institutional relationships.
It could be that EU members play hard ball, that they insist on freedom of movement as a part of any deal. Our representatives will have a mandate to work on our behalf. We know that job for job, the EU has a more vested interest in our trade deficit than we do.
Project Fear has ramped up the pain factor by saying that this is a one time only vote.
If the EU does reform to become more liberal rather than more centralised, we will have at least 2 years to change our minds. A majority of MPs, who could have a future career in the European Commission, are in favour of remaining. Do we honestly think they would not bring a motion for another referendum if the EU were to offer genuine change?
There is history in Europe. Ireland has voted against measures and achieved reform, Denmark has voted against and achieved reform. France voted against a constitution and achieved a step back.
Britain is far bigger and far more global influence than Denmark or Ireland. We also pay in 14% (plus retrospective budgets) of the net contribution.
There has never been a 2nd vote when an electorate has agreed to an EU proposal.
In conclusion, we live in a fantastic example of democracy, where MPs are approachable, where we can watch government being scrutinised by backbench MPs on select committees, even if that does not happen in the EU. Please support the democratic process for which millions have died. Their lives are important to our vote. Our vote should honour their lives.
It’s your choice, fear or freedom. Personally? I can’t help but believe in Britain, a global outlook, the Commonwealth, British strength, innovation and a history of leadership and a unique ability to stand up to bullies. Freedom is our legacy, I’ll be voting Leave.