Chris Grayling is Leader of the House of Commons, and MP for Epsom and Ewell.
The starting gun has been fired. The campaign begins here.
I will be voting to leave – and campaigning to encourage others to do the same. I hope most Conservatives will join me.
We are part of a proud nation, with a long and influential history. We have always been internationalists, playing a central role in most of the world’s leading institutions. That should never change. But we do not need to abandon our ability to govern ourselves to be influential citizens in the international community. Nor do we need to share, or follow the goal of creating a full political union in Europe, of building something that looks like, and increasingly is becoming not far short of a United States of Europe.
In fact, the EU is now holding us back as a nation with a global view. Many of the seats that we should occupy on the international stage, in bodies like the World Trade Organisation, are now taken by EU officials on our behalf. We no longer have the say we once had.
In 1973, we joined a Common Market. It was all about making international trade easier. The Single Market, which Margaret Thatcher signed up to, was all about setting common standards for European goods so it was easier to sell into each others’ countries.
But today’s Europe is very different. The Common Market has become a European Union. The sensible rules to encourage cross-border trade turned out to be European diktats telling us how many hours we could work, or how to run our businesses.
Vast amounts of Government time are now taken up simply implementing measures decided in Brussels, or fighting to stop them being even more problematic for the United Kingdom.
We signed up to treaty after treaty that gave away more control over our national decision making. If we disagree with proposals today, all too often we are told that the rights of the “European citizen” come first. Our view is routinely ignored, with change simply imposed upon us. Amazingly, Britain has never been on the winning side when we have voted against a proposal from the European Commission.
The European Court of Justice offers no comfort either. Time after time we lose cases when the outcome leads to “More Europe”.
And the troubles in the Eurozone and the migration crisis have served to accelerate demands for more integration, and to move towards full political union. In this debate, the status quo is not an option for us – it simply doesn’t exist.
And so we have reached what I believe is a crucial crossroads for the United Kingdom. We have to choose between following that path towards “More Europe”, staying on the sidelines of the Club, knowing that we will be outvoted again and again as they pursue further integration, or taking the bold decision to leave.
As Conservatives, leaving should hold no fears for us. The EU represents a diminishing part of our international trade. Our ties elsewhere are getting stronger all the time, and we are more and more successful in other markets around the world. We are strong and influential in NATO, the United Nations and other international forums – and that will not change. Indeed we will be stronger in many of them, as we will no longer have to surrender our place to EU officials.
This is a seminal moment for us. The choice ahead is simple. Do we want to be able to take our own decisions, in our own national interest. Or do we have to accept a fringe role in a project which we have never been happy in, and which will become more and more difficult for us in the future.
For me, there is no contest. I will vote to leave.
But whether we are passionate leavers, or determined to remain, there is one thing that we must not forget. We are all Conservatives. Our Party has just won its first parliamentary majority in 23 years. After long years of opposition, and five years of compromise in Coalition, we must not squander the chance to make a Conservative difference to the United Kingdom.
The issue of Europe is one that has engendered strong and divided views in our Party for a generation. That is not going to change now. There are already Conservatives on both sides of the argument.
But the country which we govern will expect us to take a careful, considered and mature approach to the debate that lies ahead. It will not thank us if we let the strength of our views damage the otherwise good relationships in our Party. We can disagree with colleagues and still be friends during and after the referendum campaign.
I will argue the case for leaving the European Union as vigorously as anyone in the next few weeks. I passionately believe that a Britain outside the EU will flourish, building trade, business and our reputation around the world.
But I will also work to make sure that when we have the result, when the people of this country have decided its future, that we still have a united Party. We must all keep in mind the need to go on and make sure we give Labour the heavy defeat in 2020 that they deserve.