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James Heappey MP

I’ve been dancing the EU Hokey-Cokey. Three years ago, I was out. After the Bloomberg speech, I was in. After the renegotiation was unveiled, I was out. But now, with just over ten days to go, the music has stopped, and I’m in.

There has been no Damascene conversion – I still think the EU is urgently in need of change that goes well beyond the concessions won in our renegotiation.

Nor have I been schmoozed. Gavin Williamson, the PM’s right hand man in the Commons, had offered me a chat with the boss but it never came. Quite rightly, I suspect David Cameron’s priority was on winning millions of votes rather than my one.

And there’s no ‘glory hunting’ either. As I write this, I’m surrounded by Sunday papers saying that the momentum nationally is going the other way and I’m pretty sure that locally here in Somerset the momentum has never been anywhere other than with the Leave.

Along the way, I’ve been disappointed by both campaigns. There have been scare stories aplenty, hopelessly biased leaflets from the Government and battle buses adorned with made up numbers for extra cash for the NHS.

We’ve been given plenty to worry about from economic Armageddon to all of Turkey leaving home and coming here. The bulls**t detector has been in overdrive.

Career wise, being openly critical of both sides has probably not been the smartest move. Choosing in the end to go the opposite way to the bulk of the Wells Conservative Association and, I suspect, a majority of my constituents is certainly not the easy option.

But this is a decision of huge importance, shaping the future of our country for decades to come and so doing what is easy, is surely trumped by doing what is right.

No matter what I think of the EU, I just cannot turn a blind eye to the gaping hole in the case for leaving. We have not seen the economic vision for life after Brexit. We know we won’t want a deal like Norway’s nor Switzerland’s. We’ll just start with a blank piece of paper and make something up as we go along.

That’s possible, but this is a decision that needs to be made in the real world. On June 24th, we don’t get to press pause whilst we design our trade deal and negotiate it with the EU. The world will go on around us, the markets will react, international businesses will make decisions about where they’ll invest and none of it will react well to our self-inflicted economic uncertainty.

If we remain, we might be better off but the worst case is surely that things are about the same. If we leave, who knows? At some point around two years after the referendum, we’d have to hand back our membership card and UK businesses would be trading under our newly negotiated settlement. Two years and two weeks beforehand, we have not the faintest clue what that deal looks like.

If it’s to indulge ‘Project Fear’ to point that out, then guilty. In my military career, however, I learned a little about fear and invariably it’s not what you know that makes you afraid but what you don’t know.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll hear lots of threats but I don’t expect those to be decisive in the way people vote. Instead, it’s the blank piece of paper that is the Leave campaign’s post Brexit economic policy.

The EU is no less flawed and the need for change is undiminished. Concerns over immigration are coming to the fore in the referendum because in communities across the UK, people are fed up.

I will be voting to remain and I really hope the country as a whole will do likewise. But that must not be confused as a vote for more of the same. Our immigration policy needs more work and the EU needs more change.

Our decision on 23rd June is going to be taken in the real world. If we vote to leave, everything around us will react to our decision and we just don’t know what the cost of that reaction will be. Then we’ll start negotiating for our future and with just ten days to go, nobody seems to have any idea what it is we’ll be asking for.

To avoid that whopping great leap into the unknown, I’ll be holding my nose and voting to remain.

100 comments for: James Heappey: The EU needs major change, but leaving isn’t worth the risk

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