1 June 2016
Dear residents of Rochester and Strood
After over 40 years it is this Conservative Government which is giving each and every one of us an opportunity to have our individual say on Britain’s membership of the EU. The decision to leave or remain will not be made by the 650 elected members of the British parliament but by the British people.
I have been genuinely conflicted by the question of do we remain or leave. It is one of the biggest, and in my opinion one of the hardest, decisions that every one of us will have to make.
I have not rushed to make my decision about how to use my personal vote, as I wanted to listen to the debate, and to the opinions on both sides, search out the facts, while trying to cut through all the emotion and emotive rhetoric that has been displayed on both sides. There are strong arguments on both sides, however no one can accurately predict or give us cast iron guarantees of what the future will be, and there are risks for Britain either way.
It is correct to say that our individual decisions will ultimately be based on our personal situation and experiences which have shaped our views around the different issues that are important to us; immigration, trade, security, fairness, economy and jobs. I was born in 1978, 4 years after the last referendum, and I have grown up and entered the world of work with Britain being a member of the EU. Our country and our everyday lives have changed significantly since that time, so have the challenges and threats we now face in the world.
I remain critical of the EU, as most people are, including those within the other EU member states. I don’t believe you would hear residents of Europe or the United Kingdom extolling their love of the EU, much like you would rarely hear that expressed about any British Government of the day.
Having listened to the debate, looked at the facts, and spoken to prominent campaigners on both sides, I have now made my own decision that I will be voting to remain on the 23rd June. I believe that the risks to my country will be greater if we leave than if we remain part of the EU at this point in time.
I realise that not everyone will share my view or will agree with my reasoning, and I respect that people will have different views, some with long held positions on this very question. I will only be representing myself, like everyone who has a vote in this referendum, but I want to outline my reasoning for my choice.
Europe has changed and is changing, as are the challenges we are facing throughout the world. I believe we will be better placed to face those challenges together within the EU.
Over the years I have often heard the arguments that Britain needs to be at the centre of the EU driving and influencing the direction and it rules. This year our Prime Minister was able to secure some changes to Britain’s relationship with the EU. Some have said that it this was not enough and that it’s not legally binding. Whether this is correct or not the fact remains that a Prime Minister of a member state was able to enter into negotiations around issues affecting the member states residents.
I believe that this is just the start of further reform within the EU. Many members’ states want reform, the residents of these countries want reform, and they will be looking to Britain to drive it. I want to see this government unlike governments over the last 20 years truly do what they say, lead from within and be relentless about establishing positives changes for the benefit of the whole European community.
I don’t believe that we have taken Europe seriously, most don’t know who their MEPs are or what they do. The national media very rarely reports what is happening in EU parliament, and this needs to change. Remain or leave the EU will still have an impact on the lives of British people.
There is no doubt there would be uncertainty as to what Britain’s economic future will look like if we were to leave, and personally I have not been convinced by the arguments put forward. Before becoming a member of parliament I ran a small business, and like many others was affected by the last recession. We have come out the other side, but the UK economy is not out of danger. Therefore I cannot support action that could potentially put our economy at risk, even in the short term.
It is correct that a vote to leave carries real risks, with effects on the value of the pound, inward investment, and economic growth. These are not scare tactics but common sense. We cannot hide from the fact that a strong economy is important to our everyday lives, jobs, living standards, public services, and at this point in time I don’t want to take the risk for young people starting out or those whom are retired needing financial security.
We have benefited from the single market, and I have had first hand experience having spent most of my working life trading with Europe. It is cheaper and easier to trade and helps grow small businesses by having unrestricted access to the single market.
There are more barriers, risks and complications for small businesses trading with the rest of the world. It is true that Britain outside of the EU would be able to negotiate trade deals with Europe and other countries world wide, however, trade deals are extremely complex business agreements between the participating countries and these are not negotiated quickly. An exit in my opinion could leave small businesses vulnerable, without any security of what future trading relationships could be, and what that would mean for their businesses and the people they employ.
I have thought long and hard about the impact of EU regulation on Britain. As a member state we are at the table, we have influence over EU regulation and legislation, and UK Ministers and MEPs represent Britain’s interests. As with all regulation there is good and bad, as with our own UK laws, but what is important to me is how British governments implement and enforce regulations from the EU. This is very much within our control. UK governments in my opinion are still gold plating; there is very little bench-marking of UK implementation versus other Members States. Not all regulation is bad but some of the problems and restrictions which are created are not of the EU’s making.
Immigration has long been a topic of debate, and it has only been in very recent times where we have been able to have a sensible debate on the issue. Parts of our country, especially in the South East, have felt the impact of Immigration and I remain concerned about the level of immigration to the UK. I believe that the re-negotiation around access to benefits for EU nationals is a positive one, discouraging people coming here for the attractiveness of the UK benefits system, which includes the option of requiring migrants to leave after 6 months if they have not found work. I want to see the British government use the full powers it has, and push the boundaries.
One of the biggest risks we are seeing today is the mass migration of people fleeing from war, and persecution, from countries where everyday lives are not like ours. This is not just an EU issue but a world problem, Britain will not be immune to these world events outside of the EU. I believe working as part of the EU we will be in a stronger position to influence, and tackle the crisis we face. Last month the British parliament passed a new Immigration Act to tackle some of the abuses we see in Britain, this should be kept under review and further legislation brought forward to continue to deal with an ever changing environment.
I have never been someone who has wanted out of the EU at all costs, so I have been open to the arguments being made. But there are risks for Britain remaining. How Britain will continue to work with a changing EU and what that might mean for us in the future is uncertain. This is why I do believe our membership of the EU should always be under review. We know what we are getting with the EU, like it or not, however we don’t know what we will get if we leave. Our laws and position in the world will be still be up for debate depending on the British Government of the day, and we can never be sure about where that will take us. I haven’t be convinced that it would be better to leave, as I don’t feel I have been presented with a coherent image of what that will look like.
It is a real privilege to serve the people of this constituency in the British Parliament. I am very proud of the place that I come from, I love my county and my country, and what ever the outcome on the 23rd June one thing that is for certain: we will still have a strong identity, and together we will never stop fighting for the interests of our country and the people within it.
On a final note, if you seek any further information around the Referendum I would like to share the House of Commons Library's non-bias briefing: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7213/CBP-721…
Kelly Tolhurst MP
Member of Parliament for Rochester and Strood