THE whole nation is convulsed by talk and discussion on the European Union referendum, much of which, in my view, is badly directed.
By the time we get to June 23 and have to make a decision, many of us are going to be more confused than we are now.
A major cause of this potential confusion is the Government’s positioning and David Cameron’s efforts to secure an “In” vote.
The basic principle of a referendum is for the individual to consider the pros and cons of the matter to be determined using well-researched and truthful facts from reliable sources, and to vote without coercion or direction.
Currently, the whole process is being driven off course because the Government is not doing its duty of explaining, independently, the benefits of leaving or staying in the EU.
On the contrary, the Prime Minister and much of his Government are leading the nation to stay “In” when it should, in fact, be neutral so individuals can make their own decision without pressure or influence.
To my great regret, David Cameron is acting like a good second-hand car salesman trying too hard to sell a suspect vehicle, with a new model heading into the showroom.
He went to Europe with good intentions and a shopping list that needed to be fulfilled to make Europe a long-term attraction to Britain.
However, he came home with such a half-empty basket that I now, for the first time, have doubts about our long-term relationship with Europe.
Regrettably, it is not just the Government getting the process wrong. So are many business, commercial and agricultural organisations, like the CBI, and the farming groups who are in danger of misleading their members.
Much of the current discussion is based on short-term thinking considering what the impact of an “Out” vote would be for Britain in the next three to five years.
Yes, this is important – but of more importance is what will the British position be in, say, 10 to 15 years time?
On this timescale, most of the senior politicians in Britain and Europe who are now holding sway will have moved on and the new lot may take different views leading to further turmoil.
Consequently, I consider the proposal on which we are being asked to make a decision is flawed.
I believe we should take three or four fundamental issues and consider the longer term implications and whether power should reside with London or Brussels:
I am looking at:
n What would be the effect of trade, industry and our economic health?
n How should we control our borders and immigration?
n How would these be influenced by the changing political scene?
n Finally could we trust the Europeans to stick to any agreements made now in 10/15 years?
From a financial standpoint, there has to be a question about the viability of the euro. While we are not a member of the single currency, its health is crucial to the future of the European Union. We have to be convinced that the euro is underwritten by gold – not sand.
With our present tax-gathering arrangements, an “Out” vote would be as safe as an “In” vote as they would provide funds to meet our current expenditure which, with European cost savings, could underwrite agriculture and industrial support schemes on terms no worse than those currently in place.
An “Out” vote would create closer links between Westminster and our factories and countryside. Cutting out the cost and bureaucracy of Brussels would be a measurable benefit and would bring our industrial and agricultural leaders nearer to our own government.
Whatever decision is made, there is bound to be an initial period of uncertainty but it won’t last as international trade is basically unstoppable – businessmen and women do business, not politicians.
For instance, Germany will want to sell Mercedes, BMW and Audi cars in Britain without a halt and Germany and the rest of Europe will need our expertise in finance and worldwide marketing.
Turning to migration, EU member states cannot manage the problem effectively to the growing dissatisfaction of their electors, and as witnessed in Germany’s regional elections.
There are too many countries involved with differing views and demands. This problem will be multiplied if more countries including Turkey join the EU.
We are presently on the edge of the problem, but our people want a long-term and permanent solution. Simply the best course is for Britain to step out of the mess and make arrangements to control our own borders and have a immigration policy decided in London.
Looking at the developing phenomenon of “different” politics, we must now judge how this is going to influence the longer-term future of the Union. There is certainly change in the political weather – radical and right-wing groupings throughout Europe and elsewhere are looking for a new form of governance. This is emphasised by the rise of individuals such as Marie Le Pen in France, Donald Trump in the USA and even our new-style Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn.
Here I have a significant concern. With these newer political forces, can we be certain that the Europeans will stick to agreements made in 2016?
On a personal basis I have often had reservations about Europe, particularly in the days when we were ratifying the Maastricht Treaty during John Major’s reign.
My overall stance on Europe, and on which I fought several General Elections and supported governments of the day, was that I wanted us to be part of a “trading Europe” but not a political and dominating Union with ever closer ties.
Consequently, as you can, I am now beginning to waver and could well vote “Out” to ensure a more certain future for Britain. Don’t forget we once ran an Empire encompassing much of the world, so we should be capable of managing all our own affairs.
n Elizabeth Peacock was Conservative MP for Batley & Spen from 1983-97.