•I have had enough of being told that we will have an EU referendum “when the time is right”. The time has come for a real debate: I challenge the Prime Minister to debate with me why he will not give us a say on our relationship with the European Union.
Anyone following David Cameron’s recent twists and turns on the EU could be forgiven for feeling dizzy. At one time, there was a “cast-iron guarantee” of a referendum. Then, last year, he three-line-whipped Conservative MPs to oppose the idea of holding one. Events last week did nothing to add clarity. On Friday in Brussels, with Angela Merkel looming over him, we were told that there would be no referendum. But 48 hours later, in an article in The Sunday Telegraph, he suggested that a referendum might be a possibility, though not just yet.
There is one note of total consistency. On at least half a dozen occasions, the Prime Minister has been clear that there will not be – must not be – a choice of whether we stay in or leave the EU.
The explanation is that it is in our interests to remain a member, so it does not matter what voters think. It’s a case of “I, David Cameron, have made up my mind.” This assertion, shared by almost the entire political class, must be questioned in an open debate. Those of us who have dared to challenge the consensus have been mocked and derided, but opinion polls now show that the British people do not want to be part of a political union.
The Prime Minister overstates the benefits of EU membership. I believe we would be better off out. My parents’ generation voted to remain a part of a Common Market which they believed to be a free-trade agreement that would not impinge on our rights of self-government. We were conned in 1975 and we must not allow that to be repeated today.
Mr Cameron claims that 3.5 million British jobs depend on us remaining part of the European Union. This comment always goes undisputed. It is based on the number of jobs dependent on exports to the EU and assumes that leaving the union would mean no further business between us and the EU – an incredibly weak, illogical argument. In 2010, the EU sold us £50 billion worth of goods more than we sold them. In short, they need us more than we need them. There is no chance of Mercedes, for example, refusing to sell us cars if we amicably divorce ourselves from political union.
The EU is a Seventies solution to a Fifties problem. The world has moved on since the “Common Market”, with World Trade Organisation agreements guaranteeing trading terms. Countries like Norway, Switzerland and even Mexico have free trade deals with the EU. Trade will continue as it does now with consumers making their choices in the marketplace. We are the world’s fifth-largest trading nation and yet, incredibly, we are banned from negotiating our own trade deals around the world. Ukip believes the Commonwealth is a good place to start, with its shared ties, common law, common language and a growth rate that outstrips our European neighbours.
But the benefits of leaving do not stop there. One of the most contentious issues in UK politics is immigration. With new arrivals running at 600,000 a year, the public demands that something must be done. But there is a problem. EU membership means that we have an open-door policy for our poorer European neighbours and a benefits system that encourages people to come here.
I was asked last week what I thought about new figures showing that Britain was the favoured destination for asylum seekers. I replied that 14,000 asylum seekers make up a small percentage of the total number of immigrants. Only by leaving the EU can we control our borders and apply a sensible and fair work permit scheme. My party is often accused of being anti-immigration. We are not. Work permits would allow talented, qualified people from all over the world a chance to contribute to the future of this country. Australia does it and so should we.
The other thing I am often asked about is human rights. Whether the issue is votes for prisoners or the failure to deport criminals on the spurious grounds of a “right to a family life”, our Government and courts are impotent. Highly paid, politicised lawyers will tell you that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is separate to the EU. That is no longer true. EU membership demands acceptance of all ECHR judgments and the EU intends to become a signatory in its own right, as part of the Lisbon Treaty. While we remain part of the EU, the chances of us wrestling back British judicial powers are slim.
I am pessimistic, however, that any of these serious issues will be addressed. My prediction is that Mr Cameron will be given one small, paltry concession from the EU over workers’ rights and will then present this as a victory of renegotiation. A referendum promise in the next Tory election manifesto on any “new package” would leave us exactly where we are now, still governed by Brussels, still unable to make our own laws and still paying £50 million a day for the “privilege” of belonging to this undemocratic club.
Once again, I challenge the Prime Minister to have an open debate with me on why he believes we must stay part of this failing, corrupt EU. The future of our nation is at stake. Mr Cameron, you have my phone number.