Iain Duncan Smith is MP for Chingford and Woodford Green and served as Work and Pensions Secretary from 2010-2016.
Conservatives can be proud of our performance on ‘Super Thursday’ last week. From the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to local authorities across the country, our people have been at their best, dedicating their time to making our case on the doorstep and getting out the vote.
Like many activists, I was out campaigning for our candidates across the country. It was not in vain – for all their efforts ensured Labour failed to make any breakthrough, while Ruth Davidson’s stunning result in Scotland showed that we are on our way back in areas previously lost to us.
Now we must focus on one more vote. In essence it is a simple choice. On June 23rd, we must decide: should the United Kingdom remain as one of 28 countries in a centralising bureaucratic organisation that claims superiority over our elected parliament and our courts? Or should we seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take back control of our democracy, control of our borders, control of our migration system and control of our own laws. In short, to reclaim our independence from the EU?
Nowhere do the arguments for taking back our independence make more sense than in the economy. And nowhere is it more important to fight back against the absurd scare stories, put out by those who want to stay locked into the EU and who do down Britain.
They are based on implausible forecasts, most often put together by people with a decades-long history of talking nonsense about Europe. Remember how organisations like the Bank of England and the CBI predicted economic doom and disaster if we stayed out of the ERM? Sadly, we joined and the ERM then brought appalling problems for working people, driving up interest rates and unemployment while pushing hundreds of thousands of homeowners into negative equity. It was only after crashing out of the ERM that we got the economy back on track and entered a long period of growth. Conservatives must never forget what a disaster that was for the Party. It took 13 years of grinding opposition to rebuild our economic credibility.
I was surprised, therefore, when John Major warned recently that leaving the EU would be playing “Russian roulette with the economic future of the UK”. Surely that was what we did when he took us into the ERM, at such a terrible price in lost jobs and broken hopes?
That is why, when I became leader, I insisted it should be our policy to stay out of the euro for good. The CBI and the OECD, who had got it wrong on the ERM, warned of the dangers of staying out. They badgered us, saying we would lose jobs and investment, the City of London would decamp to Frankfurt and we would eke out an existence of low growth and irrelevance. Wrong again; it is the euro area that has proved the job-destruction machine.
That experience should serve as a flashing red light about the dangers of listening to those who now warn of armageddon. Many of those trying to keep Britain under the sway of Brussels today have a vested interest in the European project. The OECD, which warned that “Brexit would be like a tax”, is part-funded by the European Commission.
The International Monetary Fund has warned of the referendum “clearly” increasing “uncertainty” in the global economy. Yet The IMF is also funded by the EU and is headed by Christine Lagarde, a former French finance minister, deeply rooted in the EU integration project.
Sadly, even HM Treasury has entered the fray with god-like certainty, setting out forecasts of the supposed effects of leaving the EU on people’s incomes for many years ahead. What nonsense – even the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out that in the end all forecasts are flawed. There was no clearer evidence of this than the government’s 2015 spending review, which forecast a £27 billion tax revenue bonanza, only to scrap the prediction just weeks later. To paraphrase Disraeli, there are lies, damned lies and economic forecasts.
They may as well get their local soothsayer to cast some bones on the floor.
These forecasters see doom where there is none and often miss disasters that do happen.
Remember the global financial crisis, the eurozone collapse, the horrific unemployment in large parts of Europe, the eruption of mass migration last year – all these burst upon these self-appointed experts as surprises. The Queen spoke for us all when she asked, of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, “Why did nobody notice it…how come everyone missed them? It’s awful.” Yes, your Majesty, quite so.
We should ignore the warnings of the people who were wrong then and are as likely to be wrong now. Even the Prime Minister declared Britain would thrive and prosper outside the EU.
Of course we will. Once free, we will be able to look to the wider world, rather than being shackled to a declining corner of it. Even without a trade deal with America, we still have a trade surplus of £36 billion there. The UK has been for years the largest investor in the USA, with more holdings there than China or any European country – and the Americans are the biggest investors here.
We are currently in deficit with Europe to the tune of £68 billion and its leaders will not want to put up barriers that stop their businesses selling us German BMWs, French wine or Italian clothes.
It is instructive that while corporate executives lecture us about how we must stay in the EU, British businesses have quietly been stripping investment out of Europe in the past decade.
The claim that national security would be endangered by leaving the EU is equally misguided. As Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, pointed out, leaving the EU is likely to improve our security by making it easier to keep out those who pose a threat and to deport dangerous extremists. Dearlove also said that our relationship with the USA “outweighs anything European by many factors of 10”.
He is right. We cannot secure our country as long as we have uncontrolled movement across Europe and open borders with the EU.
The Prime Minister’s hope that he could transform the EU into a flexible modern network, shedding the “cumbersome rigidity of a bloc” fell on deaf ears, as his renegotiation shows. We have instead given away any veto on the eurozone’s drive to deeper integration, even when it affects us.
Worse, if we stay in, we will continue to pay to £350 million a week – money we could spend on much more important things, like the NHS.
An uncertain future beckons if we vote to stay in: a broken border system that has allowed millions of illegal migrants to surge across Europe; British frontiers with the EU wide open; a euro area mired in crisis; Turkey and four other poorer nations set to join the EU, the continued determination to create a superstate.
No one can know or control the future. But we can control how we respond to the challenges we face. We can do this best as an independent country acting in our best interests, not as just one of 28. At its root, this referendum is asking people “do you believe in Britain?” Those who have so often been wrong about the EU in the past are pessimists who lack confidence in our remarkable, inventive and resilient people.
Not for us the fear and anxiety of those who wish to remain. No, if you believe in your country as I do join me as we convince people to make the optimistic and safe choice for Britain.
A vote to leave is a vote for our independence day.