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I was born in March 1976, almost exactly nine months after the last referendum; I have not dared ask my parents how they felt about the result. I never expected to be campaigning to leave the EU, having spent seven very happy years working in the European Parliament for what was then the EPP-ED Group, working on internal market policy, including the development of the existing services directive. I have certainly seen a number of benefits of the EU, but I have also seen too many of the frustrations and limitations that are involved in our membership.
This is a question on which it is possible to have mixed feelings. It is also a question on which it is quite possible, and indeed right and natural, for good and reasonable people to reach different conclusions without any of them ceasing to be good, reasonable and rational people. I do not take a negative view of the Prime Minister’s renegotiations, as some people have done. I think it was genuinely the best deal available, and it is an improvement as far as it goes. If we end up staying in next week, I would rather it was on the basis of having those changes than of not having them. However, they do not represent the fundamental reform that the EU needed in order to really transform our relationship with it.
I understand the argument that the Foreign Secretary made earlier. He talked about the number of our partners who are suddenly committed to competitiveness. I used to feel that way too—I used to believe it—but unfortunately, I saw that happening far too many times during the seven years that I was in the European Parliament. I remember Lord Patten calling for an end to the EU interfering in every nook and cranny of daily life. I remember Romano Prodi’s competitiveness action plan and, a few years later, José Barroso’s revitalised Lisbon strategy. Each was announced, with a great deal of fanfare as a game changer in how the EU approached competitiveness and growth, but it was always back to business as usual within a few months. I have seen nothing to suggest that anything has really changed since I left 10 years ago, because it is in the culture of the European Union to be a rather more insular and inward-looking organisation than it ought to be.
I am proud to be Member of Parliament in the Black Country. It is the home of the industrial revolution, and we still produce world-class goods and services that are sold around the world. I am proud to represent businesses that export to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world—countries such as India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, China and Taiwan. Sadly, the EU is too often a barrier to trading with those countries. I saw that when I was in Brussels, and I have certainly seen it since, as a Member of Parliament. I have therefore reached the conclusion that Black Country trade would be better served if Britain were to take back the power to negotiate those trade deals and reclaim its independent voice on international bodies.
This week’s edition of The Spectator is surely correct in saying that no one—politician, economist or mystic—can be sure what the future has in store, and whether we will remain or leave. However, we can be sure that whatever happens, Britain will be better able to respond and adapt as a sovereign country living under its own laws. Britain can look forward to a prosperous, more outward-looking future trading and co-operating in Europe and also with countries outside Europe. That is why, like so many of my constituents and so many small businesses, I shall be voting to leave the European Union.