Chris Grayling is Leader of the House of Commons, and MP for Epsom and Ewell.
The decision is upon us. Should we stay or should we leave? What kind of country will we be? What do we want for our nation in the future?
For four long months the two sides in this crucial debate have been setting out their stalls. What will be the impact on the economy? What about immigration? What about the cost of membership?
But to me the real question that should shape everyone’s decision on Thursday is about whether we take back control of our country.
EU rules now shape almost every part of our lives. The rules that surround our journey to work each morning, by train or on the roads. The rules that govern the places in which we work, and the conditions in them. The way our countryside is managed. The regulations that govern our coastal waters, our beaches and our rivers. How we carry out medical research. The ways in which our shops have to operate. Who we can categorise as an asylum seeker. The list goes on and on. Next they want to regulate our skills sector and access to healthcare.
New proposals from Brussels cross our desks every week as ministers. Time and again the submissions tell us that our negotiators have done their best, that we have got as good a deal as we can hope for, but it is still going to add costs to our businesses or force us to accept changes that we do not want.
Not only that, European law is also shaped by a court with a bias towards “more Europe”. The European Court of Justice is supreme to our Supreme Court when it comes to all the areas of law where Europe has a role to play. Eighteen months ago, when its President swore in the members of the new Commission, he told them it was their duty to resist Euroscepticism. No independent institution there…
I represented the United Kingdom for five years on different sections of the European Council of Ministers. Time and again we were outvoted by countries who wanted more integration and more Europeanisation. And if the Commission did not order us to change, then the Court did.
I respect the decision of our EU partners to step up their moves towards deeper integration. They have no choice. I do not believe that you can have a single currency without a single Government. I believe that establishing the euro was a historic mistake, but it is a mistake that has already been made. They now have to complete their political union.
And they are pledging to do so. Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, the Italian government, the Speakers of the big EU parliaments, the Five Presidents of the EU institutions, all are now planning a path towards political union, with a target date of 2025.
But it is not for us. We are not part of the Eurozone. We are not part of the Schengen area. But we are still subject to laws made by the Commission and to rulings from the Court. When there is more and more Europe, we will be affected too. But our voice around the table will be small and marginal as up to 26 countries drive towards political union.
So Britain must follow a different path. It is the only way we can take the right decisions for ourselves. Whether it is forging trade deals with our Commonwealth partners, setting limits on the number of people who can come and live here, or scrapping VAT on fuel and tampons, we should be able to take the decisions that we want – not hoping to persuade others to take them for us.
But what about the risks of leaving? We have heard time and again from the Remain camp about the economic downsides. But they never highlight the small print. Very few of the bad news stories suggest we will be worse off. They simply claim we would have been even better off staying. Even then almost all of those stories assume a collapse of trade and exports between the UK and the EU. The so-called “black hole” in the public finances identified by the Institute of Fiscal Studies was based on an assumption that the pound would fall sharply if we leave, making our exports cheaper to buy, but that people would buy fewer of them anyway. That makes no economic sense at all.
But why should this collapse in trade happen? It’s completely illogical. We buy far more from them than they do from us. We are their biggest customer. Outside the EU we will represent 16 per cent of EU exports. One in five of the cars built in Germany is sold to a British buyer. Thousands of French farmers depend on British consumers to buy their products. If trade stops, millions of EU workers lose their jobs. It’s simply not going to happen.
In fact our experience of the Single Market hasn’t been great. Over our years in the EU our trade position has gone from good to being a real problem. Within the EU we have a trade deficit of £60 billion a year, ironically partially offset by the trade surplus we have with countries around the world not in the Single Market – with most of whom we do not have any free trade deal.
Ah, say the other side, they will want to punish us. But the Lisbon Treaty specifically precludes this. Article 8 of the Treaty commits all EU members to a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to “establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness”. In the short term there may be political tantrums, but in politics money and jobs always talk in the end, and a deal will be done. It is in everyone’s interests to do so.
At the end of all of this for most people things in everyday life will look much the same. People will still holiday in Spain or travel round Europe. Airlines will fly as normal. You’ll still buy French cheese or Italian wine. Roaming charges will continue to disappear – one company has already scrapped them around the world. London will remain a great cosmopolitan city. British companies will still sell their products to people around Europe as long as they want to buy them – in the same way that they do around the world.
But from the moment we leave, our overall £350 million a week subscription to the EU stops, freeing up extra cash for priorities like the NHS. From that moment we take back control of our laws and start to take decisions where our national interest is the prime consideration. And we will be free to start negotiating our own free trade deals with fast growing economies around the world.
We will have a lot to do as a Government to deliver that change. But there will still be time to deliver our important social reforms as well. We can finish our programme of change for this Parliament and still make sure we do what the people would have voted for – to take us out of the European Union in good time before the next General Election in 2020.
And Britain will be a proud, independent nation again.