A number of constituents contacted me regarding the vote on whether we should hold a referendum to decide if we stay in or leave the European Union.
The national interest is for Britain to be in Europe, not run by Europe. That is why Conservatives want to get powers back from Brussels to Britain, particularly over social and employment legislation.
While there is no doubt that the EU needs reform, I firmly believe that the benefits of UK membership outweigh the costs, and that our prosperity and standing in the world would be seriously damaged if we were to leave, particularly given the current state of the world economy. An estimated forty per cent of our exports are to other countries within the EU. If we left, while we could still trade, we would have no influence over the rules governing our largest overseas markets. There is also no doubt that, where EU states can agree to work together, we become a far more powerful force diplomatically in a world which is getting more dangerous, not less. Above all right now, UK businesses need certainty so they can invest to generate growth in our economy and the financial markets need confidence in our future – the potential that we might have to leave the EU as a result of a referendum could have a disastrous impact on jobs and interest rates.
Having said this, we do need to ensure that we curtail, and in some cases, reverse the movement of power from the Westminster to Brussels. In its first year of office, the Coalition Government passed an extremely important law to prevent any further transfer of powers to Brussels without a referendum. This was a major milestone in our relationship with the EU, ending once and for all the creeping powers of Brussels. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who was himself at the heart of the campaign to keep the pound and prevent the UK joining the single currency, has already said that we will look for opportunities to repatriate powers as part of any substantive change to the EU treaty. We are also working hard to ensure that regulations emanating from Brussels are implemented minimally without being gold-plated by government departments.
I recognise that a number of people feel very strongly about the EU and I understand the views of those who may believe we should leave. But, after careful of consideration of what is in the best interests of the British people, in my judgement, now is not the time for the uncertainty, cost and disruption of such a referendum. This is consistent with the position I took at the last general Election, when neither I nor my Party made a commitment to an "In or Out" referendum.
Nor is it clear what the three-way proposed referendum would achieve - 40% could vote to come out, 30% to stay in and 30% to renegotiate. What would that mean?
Some people believe that the party committed itself to a referendum in the last Parliament. All three parties said, in the 2005 Election, that there should be a referendum before the Lisbon Treaty was ratified. Sadly, that commitment was not honoured, despite my Party voting for it. The Treaty has now been ratified and a referendum on it now would serve no purpose.
Monday's debate was open and unstifled - as it should be. The House endorsed the Government's view of the way forward by over 4 to 1; and the Prime Minister made it clear that he wanted fundamental reform of the EU; he wanted to refashion our membership of the EU; and he wanted to bring back powers. I think all my Party can unite under that policy.