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Young People Must Have the Courage to Vote for Change - And Vote for Britain to Leave

01/06/2016 09:42 | Updated 01 June 2016
PAUL ELLIS via Getty Images

young voter

I want to start with an apology.

You are going to be bombarded with information in this campaign, about what leaving or staying means to you personally and your family. The Remain campaign will be telling you that your ability to travel, work abroad and have a mobile phone is completely contingent on the EU bureaucracy. My lot, Vote Leave, will be showing why that is nonsense, why trade and security cooperation is good for all and so will still be in place post-Brexit, why wages will be higher in the UK and food prices lower, that energy will be cheaper and greener, and our economy stronger for being able to trade with the rest of the world freely, as well as Europe.

And, I'm sorry to say, I expect, you are going to have to endure rather a lot of patronising talk from well-meaning canvassers who will explain why your music downloads are under threat if you make the wrong decision in this referendum. Some may even try to "high-five" you. May I apologise on behalf of politicians everywhere who may be tempted to make assumptions about you and what you care about?

The fact is they don't have to. The impact of this referendum on you will be massive, and it has the potential to affect everything you do, and may, care about. It will not just affect your options now, but for years to come, and in turn your children's prospects. So I make no apologies for pointing you to Vote Leave's website if you are worried about mobile roaming charges - you should not be, by the way - and focus in this article on what is the heart of the matter: freedom and democracy; the good that comes from it, and the tragedy its absence causes.

For me, freedom is the potential for every human being to reach their full potential. That is something that many, some younger than those of you who will be voting in the referendum for the first time, died for. And I'm not just talking about those who made the ultimate sacrifice in two world wars, but far more recent events.

The EU and I are the same age. In my teenage years it did much good as it helped bring about changes in Europe, the reunification of Germany and the opening up of the former eastern bloc. Between the ages of 18 and 20 I worked in one of those countries which had been a stranger to freedom: Romania. I was part of a huge outpouring of solidarity from the UK with the Romanian people, and in particular its most vulnerable, its children. Hundreds of ordinary British people travelled over there to help care for abandoned children, many left to rot in medieval conditions. I worked in the hospitals and orphanages, and in the middle of nappy changing, nursing, feeding and playing I began to understand why democracy is so precious, fragile and necessary for freedom. And that out of freedoms light the potential for human suffering is immense.

It was freedom and democracy that inspired young people, some still children, to take to the streets of Kiev two years ago to challenge their government and Russian authority for a closer relationship with Europe.

I want a Europe that lives up to the idea that they, and many before them, died for: a Europe of strong nation states, living in peace and prosperity, trading, cooperating for the benefit of all, able to invest in defence and a continent that is a beacon for democracy, human rights and freedom for the rest of the world.

Without democracy at the heart the European institutions, that idea is dead. That idea must not die, and if, as is now clear, the undemocratic, unaccountable EU, inadequate and unworthy, runs counter to it then the EU must change.

The consequences of it not doing so are grave: Opportunity crushed, more than half of young people without a job in Greece and nearly as many in Spain, crippling austerity and hardship caused by the single currency; the tremendous suffering caused by the EU's exacerbation of, and failure to deal adequately with, the migrant crisis; the immorality of a bureaucracy which assumes authority over, but none of the responsibility for, the key problems of our day.

The EU is removing the ability of nations to act in the interests of their people, including over immigration, which should be a force for good for our country. The simple truth is that unless you can control immigration you cannot govern because you cannot set a budget or plan public services. The toughest issues facing politicians today, and the ones that will have a direct impact on your quality of life: building enough homes, creating a high-wage economy and creating the best healthcare as science progresses, depend on us controlling immigration.

Because of the EU, the politicians you elect - whatever their political hue - have fewer options to meet your needs, ambitions and concerns. They have all of the responsibility to deliver for you, but dwindling authority. It is the same across the continent.

The EU's share of the world economy has gone down from a third to a quarter since 1980 as it has been mired in stagnation and crisis and other parts of the world have risen. The EU is so ridden with waste and corruption that its accounts have not been given a clean bill of health for decades. Its clumsy diplomacy in Ukraine that worsened the crisis there could be forgiven if it now stood shoulder to shoulder with that nation, as the UK does, but instead it stands accused of "Ukraine fatigue" as it is distracted by other crises of its own making.

In direct response to this democratic vacuum, we have seen a rise in far-right politics across Europe. Unbelievably the EU's answer to combat this is to give the unelected eurocrats more power over the democratically elected leaders of its member states.

As the eurozone and migration crisis escalate, these in-state and inter-state tensions will also intensify. The trajectory the EU is on is incendiary. It has proved itself incapable of reform, and has redoubled its efforts to advance "the European project". But our country now has a chance to be the catalyst to change that, by voting to leave.

The pollsters tell us that you are not up for that. I pray otherwise. I hope that you will look at what is happening and use your common sense and, yes, courage to vote for that change. We need a better deal for the UK to thrive, to trade freely globally as well as with our European neighbours. Britain should not be held back by the EU's protectionist stance which keeps so many developing countries from growing their economies. This better deal should enable us to protect our own citizens and enable the NHS to advance. But we believe the change we are seeking could bring benefits beyond Britain, giving Europe, of which we will forever be a part, the hope and spark which it needs to reform.

Whatever and whoever you care about depend on freedom, on democratically elected and accountable people working to further your interests. That is what this referendum is about.

I could tell you about how we are the world's fifth-biggest economy - and this is important to remember. You know we are a great country and that the world will want to trade and work with us, that we will both seize the opportunities which taking back control affords us, and honour our responsibilities to our neighbours. We can do this. We must do this. We will do this. I hope you help us to take control and Vote Leave on June 23.

Penny Mordaunt is the armed forces minister and Conservative MP for Portsmouth North

HuffPost UK Young Voices is running a fortnight-long focus on the EU Referendum, examining what is at stake for Britain's young people on 23 June and why it's imperative you register to vote and have your say. If you want to have your say and blog on our platform around this topic, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. Register to vote here.

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