Why I Will Vote to Renegotiate Links with Europe but Against an Immediate Referendum

24/10/2011 14:09 BST | Updated 24/12/2011 10:12 GMT

Several months ago, when it became clear that the Eurozone was in crisis I argued that the price of any co-operation required from the UK should be that we are freed from intervention by Brussels in areas that should be the preserve of member states.

So I have added my name to the motion tonight that calls on the government to publish a white paper next year that details what powers we will seek to repatriate from Brussels and how we will achieve a far lighter touch EU regulatory environment in the future.

Then will be the time for a referendum, when we have something concrete on which to cast our votes. I am glad this debate is taking place today, so far two petitions have topped the 100,000 mark and now both have been debated in this chamber as promised by the Government.

I believe that the government should be laying the groundwork now to re-negotiate our position within the EU. I have quite a lengthy list of areas which I will come on to. But the point is we do not need a referendum to make plans. And there is no point in a referendum until we have concrete plans to put forward to the electorate.

Unless that is that you favour a referendum on whether to remain in the EU or get out altogether. I do not favour such a referendum, neither was such a referendum in the manifesto I stood on at the last election, nor did such a referendum make its way in to the coalition agreement that provides the legislative platform that I signed up, to along with all my Conservative Party colleagues, in response to the fact that we did not win an overall majority at the last election.

I think there is something of a blame culture about the EU. It is as if we have created this Brussels bogeyman upon which we can blame all our economic woes, and without which there would be a certain path to recovery. There is indeed a great deal wrong with the EU and its federalist tendencies, but it is quite clear that we face very serious threats to our economy. Many of which are home grown.

We have one of the worst budget deficits in the G20, worse than the average for the Eurozone in fact although not as bad as the United States. We have to face the facts that both unemployment and inflation are getting worse before they get better. The crisis in the Eurozone should surely not lull us in to any false security about the very grave situation in which we find ourselves; quite independently of the debt crisis in the EU.

The last thing we should be doing now is to throw fuel on to the fire that is raging across the Eurozone. In the short term we should be engaging constructively doing what we can to protect our export markets and to support moves for stability across the EU.

This approach will nurture the signs of recovery that do exist. Namely that our net exports are growing and manufacturing is hanging on in there. The Black Country Chamber of Commerce quarterly business survey found at the beginning of the month that 68% of businesses in the manufacturing sector expected sales to increase in the coming months compared with 48% who expected the same last quarter. This upsurge in confidence has a great deal to do with exports and we should not need to be reminded that 50% of our exports go to EU countries.

The European Union certainly needs to change but we need to be in there driving that change as so many of our interests are bound together with other member states. If you talk to governments and global companies based outside Europe you get an understanding that they don't deal with national governments if they can deal at a European level. The reality is they deal at both levels with the larger members like the UK.

It is not just exports and trade that benefit from our membership of the EU. It is also inward investment. Companies and Governments outside the EU would think twice about investing in the UK if the benefits of the single market were suddenly closed to us. When you add to that the areas of policy that are now decided at a regional level in the world, like security, the environment, intellectual property and aspects of foreign policy; I believe that Britain has greater influence as one of the three most significant players in the EU than it ever would again as an isolated power.

But for us to reap the benefits of our continued membership of the EU then the EU has to change. The amendment I support today presses the government to list the powers that should be returned to the UK. To be successful though we need to lead a charge to liberate all member states from the overbearing and over regulating Commission.

Employment laws are among the most damaging. The crisis of the Euro has distracted attention from the desperate need for so many economies in the Euro to reform labour laws and reduce regulation. The EU doesn't just have a debt crisis, it has a competitiveness crisis.

The Economist has just produced a survey of unemployment across the continent. The survey points to the disproportionate impact of unemployment on the young. 42% of Spanish young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed compared to the national rate of 21%.

Redundancy and other employment protection entitlements for those who are in work are horrendously expensive in countries like Spain, France and Belgium. The cost is not just borne by employers and taxpayers. It is borne by the unemployed; who employers cannot afford to take on given the financial stranglehold older workers who have been in situ for years have over their employers.

Here are a few examples of what needs to change. The cumbersome state aid laws blamed for the loss of jobs at Bombardier, the overzealous equality laws blamed for the impending hike in insurance premiums for female drivers, the encroachment of employment laws that increase costs and make working hours impossible to roster efficiently in our hospitals, the environmental agenda that is disproportionate and threatening our chemicals industry, the constant revisions to the Reach guidelines that threaten to force huge increases in animal experimentation, and the interference in our borders policy that makes it potentially difficult to incentivise employers to recruit people claiming out of work benefits for fear of discriminating against foreign workers. The list is a very long one indeed.

Cutting free from these restrictions is essential to the recovery of the British economy. But such a course is also fundamental to the economic future of the Euro zone economies. The best option for the UK is to take the lead in recasting the EU in a competitive light. But time is not on our side and this policy for the long term needs to be supplemented by something more unilateral on behalf of UK PLC to enable our economy to grow significantly once again.