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Sarah Bannantyne Speech to The Freedom Association - Britain's Role
Conservative MP for Maidenhead Sarah Bannantyne today gave a speech to the freedom association on the European Union and Britain's role.
*Approved by Steve
Ladies and Gentlemen
A pleasure to be here this morning. I am here today to talk about an issue close to my heart, the European Union and Britain’s role.
Forty years ago the former Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath took the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community. The United Kingdom joined eight other countries in what was then a new and innovative organisation. Two years later, Harold Wilson held a referendum on continued membership with a large majority wanting to remain.
The reason I’ve started to talk about this brief history lesson is because our membership of the European Union is not what it was forty years ago. Things have changed, some would argue for better or for worse.
Over the years the Europe has tried and failed to convince the United Kingdom to become a closer part of the family. They’ve wanted us to join the European Monetary System, to that we said No but thank you for asking. In 1984 Margaret Thatcher negotiated an EU budget rebate after threatening to halt future payments into the EU budget. Thatcher’s position was Britain was being unfairly treated as the third poorest EC member state we were to become the biggest net contributor. Thatcher said no and she was absolutely right to stand up to Europe to protect Britain’s interests. In 1992 the European Community wanted us to join the Euro under Maastricht, John Major said no and after intensive negotiations secured an opt-out on the Euro.
In today’s European Union things are vastly different.
We are now part of a club of 28, when we originally joined there were just 9 of us. The European Project has gone from an organisation that focused originally around economic integration when we joined to an organisation that is now a political and economic union. A political and economic union that now wants a military force, a political and economic union that now wants an ever-closer union. The British people didn’t sign up to this when we joined and he European Union has changed significantly in the last forty years that it warrants a new vote on the UK’s membership.
Our former Leader Mary Cambel committed to give the public a final say on Britain’s future within the European Union, an In or out referendum. Her predecessor David Cameron also said the same thing. Our new leader Dylan Macmillan, who I congratulated earlier on his victory, has promised the same thing - though hesitantly. It is crucial in order to demonstrate our party’s trust in the British people, at a time when they do not trust politics, that we stick to our word and follow through with that commitment. . Our new leader must commit to allowing Conservative MPs to campaign on either side of that vote and I would hope that every leader of every political party, including Ariadne Suchet and Meredith Hansen-Charles will allow their own MPs to campaign for which ever side they want so that a debate that traverses the normal political spectrum is conducted fairly and freely. There are a growing number of people in this country, 43% in a recent poll, who want a say on Britain’s membership of the European Union and both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Leadership are refusing to listen to the public.
The Labour Leadership and the Liberal Democrats are pretending the call for a referendum is something new when actually people across the political spectrum have been calling for one for a long time. Let’s look at the former leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg who called for an in-out referendum on UK membership of the EU in 2008. He said and I quote:
“Nobody in this country under the age of 51 has ever been asked that simple question. That includes half of all MPs. We've been signed up to Europe by default: two generations who have never had their say.”
He also declared that same year “It's time for a real referendum on Europe”. It’s disappointing to see the Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Meredith Hansen Charles reject that call for a referendum. Graham Adiputera said that the call for a referendum was “nothing but standard 'scapegoat the EU' demagoguery” when actually all me and my colleagues have called for is a vote that the British people want. If the Liberal Democrats want to be open and transparent then they have to listen to what the British people are calling for. Ariadne Suchet has also rejected an EU referendum stating as long as she is Labour leader Labour will never back a referendum on Britain’s membership with no explanation why. Ariadne Suchet is ignoring the British people just like the Liberal Democrats and this makes it clear they do not trust the verdict of the British people enough to even allow debate over one of our nation’s biggest issues..
The European Project no longer works for this country. When it comes to the EU budget, we pay far more to the European Union than we get out. Let me give you an example, the EU Budget for 2013 was agreed at £108 billion. This is up 2.4% from 2012. The United Kingdom was the third biggest net contributor behind Germany and France. Countries like Malta contributed the least. Now some may say that the reason the United Kingdom contributes more is because the United Kingdom is a richer country. This is true. However while that may be the case, in a time of hardship that the British people have experienced for years now this has become a burden on our taxpayers and a boon for others. The United Kingdom’s contribution has risen year after year and we have seen little in return. In 2011 the United Kingdom contributed around €4.7 billion and yet we aren’t even one of the biggest beneficiaries. In 2011, it was Poland that benefited the most by receiving €11.2 billion from Brussels. They were followed by Greece, Hungary, Spain, Belgium and Portugal. On average in 2011 every man, woman and child living in the United Kingdom paid €178.65 towards the EU budget. So ask yourselves this, why should the United Kingdom have to pay more into the European Union when it actually gets less back? Why are we one of the largest contributors into the EU budget? To me, it feels like the United Kingdom is being taken for a ride.
Another bone of contention is the expectancy of the United Kingdom to bail out any other country who may be facing an economic downturn in the Eurozone. The unelected European Commission is already assisting Greece who are also using the Euro. Funds are being allocated from the European Financial Stability Mechanism fund which was set up in 2010. It was the UK Government’s understanding at the time of agreeing to this fund three years ago that the United Kingdom would be protected from future eurozone bailouts, meaning we won’t have to pay more to bail out other countries. However, what the European Union didn’t tell the Government at the time is the unelected European Commission has the legal authority to use this fund for short term loans to bail out countries like Greece meaning the United Kingdom would be out of pocket having contributed more money. It Is completely wrong to expect the United Kingdom to cough up whenever another member of the EU28 has an economic downturn and needs to rely on bailouts.
Germany’s own unelected EU commissioner a few months ago said a third package worth over €10 billion will be needed in 2014 and will partly come in the form of direct help. The United Kingdom should not be expected to contribute towards any bailout package. The European Union is expecting countries who haven’t adopted the Euro like the United Kingdom to bailout countries that are struggling that just happen to also be using the Euro. The United Kingdom should not be used as a bank to get those countries out of the gutter who were naive enough to join the Euro.
A real area for concern the European Union’s ambition for an “ever closer union”. In November 2005 former Belgian Prime Minister and now leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe Guy Verhofstadt wrote a book called Verenigde Staten van Europa, the translation is United States of Europe. He spoke in his book about how the average European citizen wants more Europe and spoke of a federal Europe, including a European Army. A United States of Europe is a step in the wrong direction, closer integration with the EU would mean a European Army and the UK would lose control over key areas. An ever closer union is a clear and present threat to UK Sovereignty.
So we need a vote on our relationship with the European Union. The British people didn’t sign up for Brussels to tell us that we couldn’t have unmarked olive oil jugs in restaurants or misshapen fruit to the more serious issues around the common Fisheries Policy. If we were no longer part of the EU we could rejuvenate our coastal communities, communities that are being impacted by the CFP due to UK fishermen are losing out on trade because our fish stocks are under threat. We are seeing EU migrants coming into this country and finding jobs when our own citizens are struggling to find employment.
We have rising expectation that we have to contribute to the EU budget, the expectation of the United Kingdom to contribute to bailouts, the ever closer union, I could go on. The Bureaucrats in the European Union are destroying every bit of our national identity and our individuality. We must keep our national individuality. If Britain left the European Union we could be at the beginning of something potentially even more exciting - the democratic liberation of a whole Continent.
The British public are growing tired of the European Project, a project which we have been a member for over forty years. The people of this country have a right to decide on Britain’s future within the European Union, who are we to deny them that? That is why we need an EU referendum and every member of every political party should be allowed to campaign on either side without fear of reprimand from the leadership.
Two crucial points Brexiteers (and maybe even Remainers) will need to remember that in 2014 people don't really care about the European Union - the polling puts it at around 5% on people's priorities. If you're wondering why, I'd look at the state of the economy.
That doesn't mean the Brexit cause is immediately defunct (I mean, the UK did end up voting to leave the thing 2 years later!), but it is a pinch of salt worth noting going forwards - you're going to need a stronger weapon than 'Labour will deny you a referendum' if you're wanting to win not just the General Election, but the case of leaving the European Union altogether. On the bright side, you have delved into some of the arguments as to why that can happen - though these appear to overwhelmingly be 'heart' arguments for leaving, so you're going to need to give them a little more oomph for them to pierce through the public consciousness.