VOTE LEAVE group photoTheresa Villiers is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and MP for Chipping Barnet.

Very soon, for the first time in over 40 years the people of the United Kingdom will have the chance to cast their vote on our future relationship with the European Union. We should be proud that it is a Conservative Prime Minister who is giving them a choice denied them for so long by previous governments.

The European project has changed out of all recognition from the organisation people voted on in the last referendum in 1975. Successive court cases and treaties have steadily expanded its role in our national life well beyond the scope of the trading arrangement which most people thought they were joining in 1973. It is high time that people had a say on whether we stay in Europe or leave.

I believe it is time to take back control and I will be campaigning to leave. It is hugely difficult for me to find myself on the other side of a referendum from the Prime Minister, but I feel I have to act consistently with my longstanding views on Europe. I am deeply grateful to David Cameron for allowing his Cabinet to follow their consciences and choose which side they are on.

I am supporting the Leave campaign because I have an optimistic view of our country’s future. I believe we can flourish outside the European Union. We have one of the most successful economies in the world. Thanks to the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan, this country recovered from the 2008 shock to the world economy much faster and more strongly than almost any other EU Member State. We were only able to implement that plan because this country took the decision to keep its own currency.

For years, we were told that ‘Europe’ was ‘inevitable’, that if we were not part of every new initiative devised in Brussels, we risked being left behind, we risked losing ‘influence’, we risked economic stagnation. And yet in relation to the decision to stay out of the Euro, those scare stories proved to be without foundation.

In the six years I spent as a London MEP, I worked relentlessly to try to get the best from the EU for my constituents. That included, for example, a two year struggle on the gritty technical detail of the Markets in Financial Instruments directive and other initiatives designed to open up cross border trade in capital and financial services. That work included some successes as well as setbacks, but the overall direction of travel of the European institutions was never in doubt, towards further political integration.

The deal secured by the Prime Minister is welcome and, if implemented, would certainly provide some helpful protection for UK interests. I believe that he has managed to secure significantly more than many believed possible. But the EU is an institution which is too set in its ways to accept change at a really fundamental level. Even if Europe’s political leaders acknowledge the concerns of the UK, we are still subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice which will no doubt continue to drive forward political integration and the expansion of EU power just as it has done for the last fifty years.

In being part of the campaign to leave, I am not, for a moment, suggesting that we should not be cooperating with our European neighbours. But it is possible to do this without taking on all the panoply of obligations that come with EU membership and which prevent us from taking decisions which are in our own national interest. Nor is it inevitable that leaving the EU means accepting the same deal as countries like Norway which is subject to the rules on free movement of people. The EU has trade agreements in place with many countries which do not impose free movement rules. As one of the EU’s biggest markets and one with whom they enjoy a substantial trade surplus, it would be in their interest to negotiate sensible trading arrangements with us if we left.

And of course leaving the EU would give us the chance to negotiate our own trade deals with countries around the world such as India, something currently vested directly in the European Commission.

In conclusion, it is likely that the debate in the weeks ahead will focus on issues around jobs and prosperity. Those will certainly be important factors to bear in mind when people make their choice on how to vote. But there is another more fundamental issue at stake here.

The steady seepage of power to Brussels institutions over the last three decades of successive treaties has transferred more and more power from institutions in this country which we elect and which we can hold rigorously to account at a general election, to institutions which are either wholly unelected or in which those we do elect have little or no say because their voting strength is so limited.

So in taking back the power to make our own laws in our own Parliament and control our own borders, we are also strengthening our democracy. This referendum provides us with the chance to become a self-governing nation once again and that is one of the many reasons why I will be voting to leave on 23rd June.

The photo above is from yesterday’s Vote Leave event.