EU Referendum

21st February 2016

40 years ago the British people voted to join a Common Market and over the subsequent 4 decades it has become a political union. I'm proud that under David Cameron's leadership my generation of Conservatives have given the British people the chance to have their say in a Referendum.

I share much of the frustration felt by others at the growth of an unaccountable European bureaucracy, focused too much on driving a political union OF Europe instead of economic integration and prosperity IN Europe, which is why I have been a leading and active member of the Fresh Start Group of EU reformers, strongly supporting the Prime Minister's work for a New Deal in Europe, and working as a Minister to implement and deliver important reforms in the sector for which I am responsible, and to which the European Single Market is a major asset.

Whilst I have a lot of respect for the core argument that the EU has shaken the UK's sense of our own sovereignty and undermined our confidence in ourselves as a sovereign nation, I also believe that 'sovereignty' in the modern world of globalisation, corporate power, social media and an explosion of societal change is not the clear-cut concept it was. There are a myriad of forces undermining the traditional sense of a nation state as a single coherent entity behind its national borders, not just the EU.

Our world has changed dramatically since 1974. We face different challenges in a rapidly globalising economy and society. Technology and globalisation are profoundly changing our economy, society and politics.

This creates huge challenges and opportunities for the UK, and for the EU, and for the globe. So many of the issues we face - whether defence and security, environment, economy or society - require co-ordinated global action.

As a major economy and a former global power the UK is still a significant voice and force in the world - we were recently ranked no:1 in the world for 'soft power'. As such we cannot and must not shirk our international responsibilities. With huge instablity in the Middle East; Russia and China aggressively re-militarising and a fragile global economy recovering from a tumoultous economic crash, we need strong trade and political ties to bind the nations of the world together.

The European Union needs to reform and modernise and become more global and entrepreneurial with a greater focus on the global competitiveness, prosperity and influence which ultimately underpin our security. If the UK were to leave I fear we would make the UK, Europe and the globe a less secure place, and hinder not help the process of global trade.

With the reforms negotiated by the Prime Minister we are now in a privileged position which reflects what most British people want: to be in the European single market but not run by Europe.  The PM's reforms will enshrine in law for the first time in the history of the EU that the UK is inside the Single Market but never the Euro currency zone; inside the European right of free movement of citizens and labour and capital, with important protections on benefit tourism and our financial services sector, inside the EU but exempt from 'ever closer (political) union' with protections against a further creeping loss of sovereignty.  It may not be perfect, but its a significant deal hard-won.

In my constituency in East Anglia, and in the sector of Life Sciences and the Bio-Economy for which I have the privilege of being the UK Minister, I strongly believe that withdrawl from the European Union would not be in our best interests. The jobs and prosperity being created in our area by the high growth businesses of tomorrow are strongly linked to our membership of the European Single Market, scientific community and to the UK's strong role in influencing the market regulatory framework of the EU.

There are no shortcuts or easy routes to solving the challenges we face. If only there were. "Brexit" wouldn't solve any of these problems. In fact the evidence suggests that - at best - the economic impact would be equivalent to another banking crash in terms of lost GDP/growth, even without possible trade barriers from the EU.

I don't dismiss that we could leave and survive. We could. But I think we'd be poorer. With less influence. With fewer friends in Europe. Leaving us more, not less, insecure in an insecure world.

This is a momentous decision for us all, and one that should be taken not for short term tactical political advantage but with our responsibilities to our country, our children and the global security and development - on whose sustainable development we all depend - at the fore.

For all of those reasons, respectful of the arguments of those who decide to go the other way, I believe our best interests are served by the renegotiated terms of our continuing membership of the European Union.

George Freeman MP 

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