WHEN considering my British identity, I recall the 1998 World Cup. Specifically, the moment when Michael Owen ran from the half-way line, dribbling at the Argentinean defence, decimating them, not once but twice. I am not embarrassed to admit that that moment had me running around my house in my England shirt screaming that “we were going to win the World Cup”.
Although, we didn’t, I am still proud of how we represented ourselves on the international stage and the purity of that footballing moment was akin to the purity of my pride as a British citizen.
What does this have to do with the European Union? Well, that same British pride is struggling to accept why so much control over our laws and policy-making has been taken by bureaucrats in Brussels. Simply put, the European Union is outdated. When it was created. regional blocs seemed to be the future and its structures were designed to address high freight and refrigeration costs. That world has been made redundant by technology. Jet travel, satellite television and, above all, the internet have made geographical proximity almost irrelevant.
As a businessman, I know our greatest opportunities are likely to be beyond Europe. Asia, Africa and the Americas have boomed in recent years while the Eurozone, incredibly, was no larger in 2015 than in 2008.
I don’t want to leave the EU because of nostalgia. I’m not afraid of globalisation. On the contrary, the EU is too small for a global nation like ours, and the nostalgia that worries me most is that of Little Europeans who advocate highly regulated, corporatist, bureaucratic Brussels structures designed in the 1950s, as appropriate for 21st century Britain.
I love this country because it defines patriotism in a way that we can all embrace. Like many second generation Brits, I speak more than one language, and have family and connections across the oceans. None of this makes me any less patriotic.
For me, being British means believing in parliamentary democracy, individual autonomy, secure property rights, uncensored newspapers and jury trials. These values link us to English-speaking, common law countries around the world more than they do to some European countries on our doorstep. So, why do these values lead me to vote to leave the EU? Three reasons.
First, I believe our freedoms are most secure in our own hands. I have never understood why we need to be “given” our rights by judges from places with much less proud records than Britain’s. Britain has always been a beacon of liberty. That is not to say that British Muslims face no challenges; but those challenges are nothing like the bigotry and discrimination faced by many Muslims around Europe.
Second, we are a global country, linked by migration to every part of the world. If you are from a Commonwealth background, you will almost certainly know people who have had difficulty bringing friends and relatives to the UK – not to settle, but simply to visit. The UK has had to crack down savagely in its visa regime for non-EU nationals to make unlimited space for people with no connections to Britain. How can we have got to the position where we effectively turn away computer programmers from Bangalore in order to admit unskilled workers from Brasov?
I’m not arguing for an open-door immigration policy vis-à-vis the Commonwealth, any more than we should have one vis-à-vis the EU. All I’m asking for is fairness.
Third, and most important, the EU is declining economically. In 2006, it accounted for 55 per cent of our exports. Last year, that was down to 44 per cent. Where will it be in 20 years? Yet, as long as we are in the EU, we can’t sign a bilateral free trade agreement with India or Pakistan or Australia. Only the EU can do that on our behalf and, if ever it does so, it will not prioritise British interests, so as to protect textile producers and farmers in southern Europe.
I want to leave the EU because I’m an optimist. I have a vision of a free, prosperous, global Britain, interested and engaged with every continent – including Europe.
Can’t we resume our place, independently, at the global top tables? Do we need European Commissioners to speak for us?
We are, after all, the fifth largest economy in the world. My British pride tells me we can manage to live under our own laws.
Saqib Bhatti is joint secretary-general of Muslims for Britain.