Before addressing the title of this article I should first set out my own personal views. Ever since the late General De Gaulle vetoed Harold Macmillan’s application to join the then Common Market, I have felt that the United Kingdom was very much on the back foot in terms of the reality of our membership. Perhaps if we had been one of the “founding fathers” everything might have been different.
Many UK residents were very pleased that we were eventually given the opportunity to trade our goods and services in a single market, have educational and cultural links and work together in common defence and foreign affairs matters but became increasingly hostile to closer integration of sovereign states. In essence, the majority of UK residents were never happy with the ultimate concept of what they perceived to be the move towards one government, one currency and pooled sovereignty.
So it was perhaps against all odds and forecasts, in what was a high turnout, that a substantial majority of British people voted to leave the EU. Before that momentous decision had been taken there was a high level of totally irresponsible scare-mongering, which the common sense of the British people decided to ignore. I believe they have already been proved right in their judgement; after all the sky has not fallen in on the UK. After the initial reaction to the vote our financial markets have once again stabilised.
We now, of course, have a new Prime Minister and she has made it absolutely clear that Brexit means Brexit and there can be no going back on the decision which the British people took. The Prime Minister has also been wise enough not to be bullied into triggering Article 50 before everything is in place to begin the two year renegotiation process. It is in no-one’s best interest to conduct these historic negotiations in an ill-prepared manner.
A new Cabinet has been appointed, with key ministers who supported the Leave campaign entrusted with the job of negotiating trade deals and other associated matters. From a British point of view I believe there will be enormous gains for British businesses from leaving the European Union. We will no longer be restrained by general trade deals, geared for all member states in the mistaken belief that ‘one size fits all’.
All present members of the EU will be as keen as ever to sell their goods and services to the UK, nothing will change in that regard. But from a British point of view, we will be able to address the adverse consequences which followed our joining the EU in terms of agriculture and fisheries. We will now take the opportunity to ensure that we boost trade with our Commonwealth partners and hopefully conquer new markets in the rest of the world.
I see no reason whatsoever, whilst we may no longer be a member of the European Union, not to continue to work in common matters concerning foreign affairs and defence. Indeed, the disastrous British decision to support the Americans in toppling the former regime in Iraq went ahead in spite of EU opposition, particularly from the French. Whilst, as an island, we have a particular advantage to defend our shores, being surrounded by water, we would very much want to help and work with our European colleagues in terms of security and the general effort to defeat terrorism.
Let me now turn to the matter of immigration. Whilst for me the fundamental issue was sovereignty, for many of my constituents it was all about immigration, by which I mean too many people arriving in a small island and wanting to live in the south or south-east. Since the referendum, many people have raised the issue of reciprocal rights, that is Europeans already living in the UK and British people living in Europe. I am absolutely sure that with goodwill the negotiations should secure arrangements which will satisfactorily accommodate those who are worried about their future. It would be in no-one’s interest to discriminate against what would be perceived as “foreign nationals” living abroad.
I am also sure that European workers will still be welcome in the UK, but the number entering our country will in future be strictly monitored, not only in terms of skill mix but in terms of our country’s safety and security. Many people felt that the UK economy simply could not continue to support a rapidly growing population from overseas and Europe in particular.
Finally, for me perhaps the greatest prize of all, the UK government taking back control of its own destiny. It is absolutely imperative that the British Parliament is sovereign so that when UK residents vote in General Elections they know that the MPs they are sending to Westminster will make all the laws which govern our country. In recent years our membership of the European Union had eroded our national sovereignty to about 45%, a totally unsatisfactory state of affairs.
So, in summary, in most people’s lifetime the British people’s decision in the referendum of June 23rd to leave the EU is a defining moment in our history. The UK has always been rightly proud of the influence that a relatively small nation has had throughout the world. Brexit has secured what I believe will be a very bright future and will enable us to still enjoy a fruitful and positive relationship with both our European neighbours and the wider world.