Independent Britain: Launch
“Hello and welcome to the launch of Independent Britain, a non-partisan campaign group whose purpose is to advocate first for a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, and second for withdrawal from the EU as a consequence of that referendum.
I am delighted to be joined here today by a range of MPs, Lords and others who are united in a common cause: the belief that Britain can be a freer, fairer country, and a more prosperous nation, outside of the EU.
In 1975, I, like millions of others, voted for Britain to stay in what was then the common market. I have always believed, as a Conservative and as a humanitarian, that free trade is the best mechanism for the alleviation of poverty, the extension of opportunity and the abolition of conflict. As a Christian, I believe that all in the world are brethren: and that by coming together, we can achieve more than we could ever do alone.
Some of the finest examples of open, free and fair trade have come out of the European Union. The single market, advocated most strongly by the British government under Margaret Thatcher, creates a level playing field in which nations can trade on an equal footing, with regulatory alignment which ensures high quality in goods and services and which maintains a shared rulebook for commerce.
But, as time has ticked on, the European Union has morphed into a principally political project, one that is profoundly undemocratic, and one which threatens British sovereignty and the freedoms of British people on an almost daily basis.
The costs of EU membership are profound. We spend around £100 million a week on our membership of the European Union, and in return we get nothing that a country outside of the EU, such as Norway, receives. I look at Norway and I wonder if it would be so bad to be like them: free, sovereign, wealthy, and happy: connected to the economic powerhouse of Europe, but not part of the political mission of ever-closer union which has gradually stripped member states of their pre-eminence and, in the minds of many, of their cultural independence.
Britain has always been the awkward partner in Europe. We are not part of the Schengen area, and despite the best efforts of Mr Blair we have not joined the Euro. In some ways, we have fallen into the outer ring of a two-track Europe: one in which a Franco-German axis controls much of the decision making, and where the United Kingdom’s voice seems seldom heard.
The unelected European Commission has the sole power to initiate legislation, with the people’s Parliament having only very limited influence over its composition and mission. MEPs, elected by us, are not the drivers of European policy: rather unelected appointees, chosen by national governments, such as Lord Ashdown - a Liberal Democrat Lord who, despite having been elected by noone and belonging to a party which has never won an election, now has the power to set policy rules which Britain must obey.
None of Europe’s three Presidents have a mandate from the British people, and none belong to either of the two party blocs which most people here voted for in 2014. There are 14 Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament and 7 of the European Commission: it is a testament to the brilliance of men like Joe Biden that America gets by with only one.
I would be satisfied - ish - with a model of European Union in which either the Parliament or the Council held primacy. It should be either member states, with their democratically elected governments, or the directly elected Parliament, which sets the direction of travel for our country and others. But this is simply not the case.
That direction of travel is clear. The government promised to secure legislative primacy for the Parliament; it has failed. The government promised to secure an elected European President; it has failed. There is no appetite in Europe for reform in the direction of power to the people; but there is plenty of appetite for the reverse.
Indeed, when the proposed European Constitution was roundly rejected in referendums across member states, the failed project was reincarnated within years as the Lisbon Treaty, signed and ratified. The EU got its way with its classic trick of asking the same question until it gets the answer it wants.
There are two areas of EU law which are perhaps most troubling of all. These are the common fisheries and common agricultural policies.
The first means that, despite being an island nation with extensive coastal waters, our fishermen keep a measly portion of their catch. I spoke to fishermen in Peterhead, not far from where we are here in Aberdeen, and I heard first hand the stories of throwing perfectly good fish dead back into the sea; of abiding by restrictive quotas which take profits out of reach; and of a dying industry which is throttled by the chokehold of restrictive EU rules.
The second means that British taxpayers pay vast subsidies to farmers in France and Germany even as the British agricultural industry gets very little in return. CAP reform has been on the agenda of every British government for as long as I can remember: only one, that of Margaret Thatcher, was successful in levelling the playing field. Now even our annual rebate does not cover the cost of our vast contributions to the EU budget, and in net terms we are around £5.2 billion worse off than we would be if we exited the European Union and traded with the nations of Europe through the European Free Trade Association, which we founded and then abandoned after a protracted and humiliating period of prostration to the Berlin-Paris power axis.
My friends, it is time to fight back against Brussels, and it is time to build a truly independent Britain. A Britain outside of the customs union, free to set its own trading agenda and to strike up new agreements with partners new and old around the world. Australia, New Zealand, the United States; Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and India; Japan, China, Brazil and Korea. There is a world of opportunity beyond the EU which, as a nimble, independent trading nation, we can explore and exploit.
That is why today I am launching the ‘independent Britain’ campaign. This campaign will form the prototypical foundation for a cross-party, mainstream movement to advocate for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU if and when a referendum is held. We will not engage in the anti-immigrant, nationalistic and protectionist rhetoric of UKIP, nor will we dalliance with the ridiculous prophecies of doom, despair and renewed global conflict peddled by the establishment should we leave the European Union. Instead, we will offer a reasoned, moderate and credible plan for EU exit, and advocate on the grounds of the economy, of sovereignty and of enhanced future prosperity for our withdrawal from the European Union.
My own preference is for us to negotiate continued access to the single market as a member of the EFTA; others here will have different views. But what unites us is our profound sense that something must change in British politics: that something must be done differently, and that we must relaunch and revive our nation as a beacon of global free trade and as the spearhead of an international movement towards greater openness, better innovation and fairer multilateral relations.
What appears to be clear is that only one party in the UK Parliament will deliver a referendum on our continued membership of the EU, something that millions of people up and down this country are demanding in a growing cacophony of discontent with the status quo. Labour and the Liberal Democrats don’t want a referendum; UKIP can’t deliver a referendum. Only the Conservatives can and will hold that referendum, and on both sides of the divide - advocacy for in and advocacy for out - it is Conservatives who are leading the charge. I look forward to some healthy sparring with Anita Redmond in the future.”
“That’s my lip service to Dylan done, then.”
“The European Union was founded in the vision of postwar Europe, as a counterweight to the rise of the USA and the Soviet Union. In this new age, there is no pre-eminent superpower: rather there are a multitude of economic, military and political powerhouses amongst which Britain still counts itself. Leaving the EU is not about turning away from the world, but about turning into it; not about shying away and shirking our duties, but about fulfilling them. It is not a hopeless lunge for the 1950s, and an autarkic diet of Spam and Smash: it is a hopeful leap into the future. It is a leap of self-belief and self-confidence that I dearly want the United Kingdom to make, and in addition to my duties as Shadow Home Secretary, I intend to make the case vociferously for it to do just that.
I would now like to hand over to my close colleague, a man whose youth, virility and ambition mark him out as one of the blooming figureheads of our movement, and whose charisma sets him on a course to be one of our country’s greatest future statesmen. Ladies and gentlemen, William Croft.”
Good morning, everyone! It is so great to be here with you all today as we launch our movement for a more free, more prosperous, more Independent Britain!
I must begin thanking my good friend and colleague, Douglas Byrne, for his very kind introduction. Since my first days in the House of Commons Douglas has been a mentor of mine, and it means the world to be standing with him today as we begin what will be one of the most important campaigns in our country's history.
As Douglas said, it was in 1975 that millions of British people voted for Britain to remain in what was the European common market. I would have joined him in voting for it, had I been alive back then to cast my ballot.
(William turns to Douglas with a smirk as the crowd laughs)
But yes, I would have been among those voting to remain in the common market, because I like so many others believe in the potential free trade between nations has to grow our economy, connect British consumers to the best goods and services, and to strengthen the bonds between free people across the world. The vision of the European Community in 1975, the one Lady Thatcher fought for and defended, was one that understood that Europe's strength comes from the individuality and uniqueness each independent nation has to offer.
That vision, unfortunately, has been lost. Britain now faces a European Union intent on growing its collective power at the cost of our national sovereignty. An EU determined to achieve "ever closer integration," with eyes set on a future where British laws are no longer made in Westminster, but instead dictated to us by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. This is not what the EU was meant to become, but unfortunately it is the reality we now face. The modern European Union is the representation of a dream unrealized, a missed opportunity for greater economy growth and mutual prosperity across the European continent and the world. It is a disappointing story of what happens when bureaucratic power is allowed to grow unchecked, morphing a tool for growth and innovation into a weapon to serve the interests of the powerful few.
Fortunately, a brighter future for The United Kingdom is undoubtedly still in reach. A future where we can take advantage of the global market, without forcing British business to be tied down by regulations imposed by Brussels. A future where we can welcome hardworking immigrants from around the world, while still retaining control over our borders. A future where we can play an active and leading role in world affairs, without sacrificing our sovereignty as an independent nation.
And that future, ladies and gentlemen, is one where The United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
Like Douglas, the politicians here today, and the millions of British people across the country, I support exiting the European Union not because I want to see our country closed off from the rest of the world, but because I want Britain to be more connected to the global marketplace. It is because the ideas first espoused by the European Community like increased trade, innovation through international collaboration, and opening up markets to expand opportunity for working people are now under threat as a result of the European Union that I am more confident than ever that for Britain to succeed we must leave the EU.
The message I have for you all today, and the one I will continue to share until the British people are given a vote on Britain's membership to the EU, is that a positive, optimistic, and successful future awaits Britain when we depart the European Union. I will leave the doom and gloom narrative to the left's political establishment. Instead, I want to focus on the inherently positive value that we will unlock as a nation when Britain frees itself of the burdens imposed upon us by the EU.
I believe in leaving the European Union because it will unlock the full potential of the British economy. For decades, all of us have watched as the European Union has morphed from a stimulant for economic growth, into a source of burdensome regulations that weigh down upon British business and farmers. Regulations imposed at the European level attempt to apply a one-sized fits all approach to inherently unique national economies and industries. British businesses suffer as a result, as do small and local British farms being forced out of business by the EU's archaic Common Agricultural Policy. The regulations faced by our businesses should be made by people who understand the British economy and are held accountable to the will of the British people. Beyond the regulatory burden we face, the tens of millions of pounds we sent to Brussels every year is vital capital that could instead be directed towards investment that would spur economic opportunity here in Britain. It is not the obligation of the British people to support the bloated, ever-growing bureaucracy of the European Union. Leaving the organization is a meaningful, logical means of unleashing the power of the British economy.
I believe in leaving the European Union because doing so will enable us to finally take full advantage of the global marketplace in a way that is impossible as a member of the EU. British business is being handicapped as a result of our inability to forge free trade agreements with nations outside of the European Union, a reality we face precisely because of our membership to the European Union. It is more expensive to do business in countries outside of the EU, and more expensive for British consumers to purchase goods outside of the EU, because our country is literally prohibited from negotiating FTAs with these nations. Having unfettered access to European markets is of course a good thing, but not if it comes at the price of being prevented from engaging in free trade with some of the world's largest economies. Being free to negotiate free trade agreements with The United States, India, Japan and other leading world economies would have a direct positive impact on the British economy, and would be achievable the moment we left the European Union. The EU has tried and failed to negotiate their own FTAs with many of these countries, and every time Britain is left losing out on trade opportunities and enhanced growth. We shouldn't be forced to wait around for European bureaucrats to negotiate meaningful FTAs, we should and will be able to do it on our own when we leave the EU.
And finally, I believe in leaving the European Union because it will restore British democracy and ensure our nation has the ability to act in the best interests of the British people. For decades, those that support total European integration, or a "federal Europe," have used the European Union as a tool to achieve their aims. And every time, successive British governments have allowed this encroachment to go unchecked. We now live in a country where many of our laws and rules are made by bureaucrats unaccountable to the British people, where we have little to no control over our national borders, and where our trade policy is virtually entirely dictated by the EU. The world's oldest democracy is quickly becoming a vassal of a European-super state, a fate that is not only wholly unacceptable for Britain but is also a disservice to the wider global community. Britain, and the world for that matter, is better off when Britain is free to lead and set our own goals and commitments. Leaving the EU ensures that the British people are able to reclaim control of their country, and carry on with the knowledge that those making the laws that effect the British people are politicians directly beholden to the British people.
My decision to support Britain leaving the European Union is not one I made lightly. I wouldn't be here with you today, announcing the launch of Independent Britain, if I did not believe with every fiber in my being that this was the right thing to do for our country's future. It is with the solemn goal that I would like to leave this country better off than I found it, to leave it a country that my children and grandchildren will be proud to be apart of, that I am advocating for a future where Britain is free of the confines of the European Union. I believe our future is brighter, stronger, and more secure outside of the EU, and I believe it simply takes courage and strength for us to realize that future. Britain has never failed to rise to meet the challenges in front of us, and I am confident that this moment will be no exception. Together, as one nation, we can achieve an Independent Britain and reclaim control over our national destiny.
Thank you all very much for listening. With that, Douglas and I would be more than happy to answer any questions.
Member of Parliament for Bracknell
Shadow Foreign Secretary
Chairman of the Conservative Party
Chief Whip of the Conservative party
I can't mark my own work; but I can mark Croft's.
It's a good and impassioned speech with ably sets out the vision for Britain outside of the European Union. It is curious that the pro-leave Tories seem to be coalescing around the idea of continued EEA membership, in the so-called 'Norway model' - it's a solution to Brexit that is extraordinarily simple, and could be done within months rather than years. Of course, what Croft fails to address is the consequences of being outside the customs union: what that would mean for the borders, and particularly the Northern Ireland / Ireland border.
This doesn't move public opinion very much one way or the other with regards to whether we should leave, but it does add fuel to the growing demand for a referendum. It also helps to further sideline UKIP as prominent Conservatives take up the Brexit cause.
For the party, it's inconsequential.
Labour Party Adviser
Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence Moderator