Nobody in the UK has had a say on our membership of the EU since 1975. My constituents will now be the first to have a vote in a local referendum.
Since being elected in 2010 I have worked hard to represent all of the people in my Rochester and Strood constituency, irrespective of who they backed at the election, and notwithstanding how party whips may have wanted me to vote. I have consistently campaigned for an In/Out EU referendum, even when it was unfashionable, and I was delighted when we finally succeeded in making it Conservative party policy.
My view on our membership is unambiguous. I have argued against our EU membership for my whole adult life, spearheaded campaigns such as the People’s Pledge for a referendum on EU membership, and triggered the vote in Parliament for the first ever cut in the EU Budget. I will, when given the chance, vote for the UK to leave the EU.
I believe that Britain should be an independent country, trading with Europe, but governing ourselves and controlling our borders. With the latest ONS figures showing net migration up to 212,000, including a doubling of net migration from the EU up to 130,000, and Angela Merkel saying free movement must be sacrosanct, we may all soon have to accept that if we are to cut immigration as we have promised, then this can only be achieved if we leave the EU and take full control of our own immigration policy.
People feel that the EU is heading in a direction they never signed up for, which is why I believe my constituents deserve a say. A Conservative majority government would deliver that In/Out referendum in 2017, irrespective of the outcome of any attempted renegotiation (or perhaps now merely ‘reform’) of the EU. It is now surely a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the British people as a whole will vote on whether they want us to be part of an ever closer European Union or an independent country.
I am proud that my constituents will be the first in the country to have the chance to cast such a vote. Within the next few days every resident in the Rochester and Strood constituency will have been sent a ballot paper, complete with a freepost return envelope, asking the question “should the United Kingdom be a member of the European Union?” – Yes or No. My views are well known, but I have sought to present the referendum materials neutrally, and I am but one voter, with tens of thousands now having a chance to make their voice heard on this crucial issue.
The campaign, which we launched on Saturday has been positively received locally with constituents clamoring to have a say. The moment the referendum was announced I was inundated with messages from people making sure they didn’t miss the opportunity to take part – including many who weren’t in my Rochester and Strood constituency, but would love the chance to take part in something similar where they live. This enthusiasm was matched by the many activists – old and new – who joined me at Strood Conservative Club to launch the campaign and help deliver the ballot papers.
Though my expectation is that most of my constituents will vote to leave, the most important part of this exercise is not so much the result itself but that it is in the hands of the people. This kind of choice is not something that Labour or Liberal Democrats politicians want us to have. For them there is no greater danger than trusting the people. Just look at their shameful behaviour as they talked out my colleague James Wharton’s EU Referendum Bill.
On this issue let us be in no doubt of the disdain these other parties have for the public and a majority of their own voters, who for far to long have been denied the chance to decide once and for all who governs us. That is why as someone who has fought for this vote my whole adult life I wanted to give my constituents – irrespective of party affiliation – the chance to vote on whether the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union. If Rochester and Strood leads the way, then hopefully many others will follow.