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Referendum: Cool Heads Will Bring Wise Counsel

07/04/2016 14:24 | Updated 07 April 2016

There are three things we need to keep in mind about the forthcoming EU referendum.

Firstly, our Government has delivered wholeheartedly on its pledge to hold an in-out vote, despite a chorus of sneering and doubting voices. It deserves respect for that.

Secondly, we all have one vote and one only - Ministers, MPs, MEPs and everyone else. My view counts no less than the Prime Minister's and no more than the man on the Clapham omnibus.

Thirdly and crucially, this is a decision which should be taken with the head rather than the heart. Emotion is inevitable, but a sober assessment of the pros and cons will bring us to the wisest choice.

As someone who has to listen to French and Spanish socialists in the European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee, sometimes my heart would vote to get out! They constantly tell us how bad part-time contracts and flexible working arrangements are and how bad the employment prospects are in their countries, especially for young people.

I tell them that it doesn't have to be like that: just look at the UK. We have the lowest unemployed claimant count for over 40 years, we have more people in work than ever before, we have nearly 700,000 job vacancies and we have the highest growth rate in the developed world. We have all this as members of the EU - and this is where my head comes in.

It tells me that in my lifetime we have experienced the longest period of peace and prosperity ever. Why would I want to jeopardise this? Why would I want to take the risk? Why would I deny all the benefits that I have received to the next generation?

Jobs and growth are vital to our economy and it is small businesses who produce 85% of new job opportunities. As a member of the Federation of Small Businesses, I know that nearly a third of its members trade overseas and 80% of those who export sell to Europe.

We should also remember that it's not just those that trade directly with other EU countries, it's the whole supply chain who benefit. So, many businesses succeed directly or indirectly, because of the free trade system.

The single market means we have open access to 500 million people, tariff-free. It is amazing to think that, back in the 1980s before the single market, a lorry taking products from Birmingham to Barcelona would have to have 88 different documents. Now it is only one.

The single market for our products is very important, but we must go further and the Prime Minister's renegotiation has secured a clear commitment to complete the single market in services, digital commerce and energy.

David Cameron's negotiations have achieved a lot more than many predicted. It is good news that the member states have agreed on certain reforms, but this is in no way the end of the reform process.

I continually work to cut the administrative workoad that EU legislation has put on small business and I'm pleased we have reached agreement for burden-reduction targets in specific sectors. In practice, this will mean removing, repealing and withdrawing existing legislation and ensuring that what is left is fit for purpose.

I think that a reformed EU offers us prosperity, opportunity and certainty and that is why I shall be voting to remain.

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