James Heappey is Conservative MP for Wells.
Yesterday was supposed to be the day that it all started to become clear. Since the referendum was announced, I’ve been one of those fence-sitters saying that I’m waiting for the detail of the renegotiation. I meant it, too. I’m mildly eurosceptic but see some advantage to our EU membership. I went to Brussels recently with the Energy Select Committee and was affronted by the scale of the Commission and its ‘#TeamJuncker’ banners, but not enough to go home and dream of razing the place to the ground. I see both advantage and peril in the free movement of people. And whilst I loathe the regulatory interference, I love the common market – as do hundreds of businesses in my constituency.
The deal presented yesterday has not won me over. That we’ll not have to bail out the Eurozone is a good thing and so is the recognition that we don’t want ever closer union. But the red card seems like a bit of a nonsense; restoring sovereignty to our Parliament surely means that we can vote something down because it is not in the UK’s interest alone, not that we need to somehow build a consensus of 55 per cent of other EU parliaments. In any case, I’d hope that if opposition to something proposed by the Commission was that widespread it would already be brought down through the Council or the European Parliament. The emergency brake seems a bit of a duff too – and a long way from the aim we set out in our manifesto.
So the next stop is the Leave Campaign HQ to get myself some leaflets to deliver in Somerset, right?
Well, no, actually because watching the Leave campaigns at work is rather like watching one or all of the England football, rugby or cricket teams at their last World Cup. They’ve been training for this for their whole careers, they know the game inside out and backwards and they have the ability to win but instead they can’t quite work out what the tactics are. They seem flat, disjointed and, frankly, uninspired. A first round departure from the tournament seems possible in that neither of the campaigns might end up being selected by the Electoral Commission to contest the knockout games later on.
I cannot speak for all voters but I do feel that just because the Prime Minister’s deal isn’t quite as much as many of us had hoped for, it doesn’t automatically mean that we become Leave voters by default. The Leave campaigns need to be wrestled from the hands of the Euronerds and the zealots and a positive, inspiring vision for the UK outside the EU needs to be advanced by people who have represented the UK in business and in politics on the global stage.
I suspect like many, if I am left in doubt, I will do the safe thing and vote to remain. In doing so, I would be voting for a new settlement that is way short of what I hoped for and I fear it would encourage the EU to do all sorts of crazy things as they confuse a reluctant vote to remain as a mandate for more from Brussels.
Being on the fence is getting uncomfortable. The argument to leave could be so appealing but it doesn’t seem to be being made anywhere outside of UKIP rallies and branch meetings. Some of my colleagues have waited their whole career for this opportunity. I implore them not to let it slip through their fingers but to find people and a message that will inspire confidence in a vote to leave.
The football, rugby and cricket teams can have another go in four years. This question won’t get asked again for another forty.