Vote Leave, and take back control: speech by Theresa Villiers

Today Theresa Villiers gave a speech the Financial Times Future of Europe conference in Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. She set out some key reasons why the we should vote to leave the EU and take back control.

When I was elected as a Member of the European Parliament in 1999, I was concerned about the direction of travel of the European project.… but I was certainly willing to give the EU the benefit of the doubt.

In my younger days I’d even say I was something of an enthusiast.

During my years as an MEP, I did all I could to make the system work in the interests of the UK and the constituents I represented in London.

I played a significant role in efforts to deliver capital market integration and boost cross border trade in financial services, most notably as Rapporteur for the Markets in Financial Instruments directive … or MIFID

… but I also laboured long and hard on a succession of 42 measures in the European Commission’s Financial Services Action Plan.

I like to think that in grinding through endless technical detail and even more endless meetings, discussions, and negotiations … I made a difference to the outcome on a number of issues.

I’ve now spent 17 years in elected office …. including nearly 11 in David Cameron’s team, first in the Shadow Cabinet, then in Government and now in Cabinet …

… and I have come to the firm conclusion this United Kingdom which I am lucky enough to call home would be far better off outside the European Union.

It’s not easy finding oneself on the opposite side of the debate from the Government and the Prime Minister …. but this is a question which is so fundamental that it was not one on which I could hedge or equivocate.

I count it an honour and a privilege to serve in David Cameron’s Government which over the past six years has done so much to restore Britain’s fortunes as one of the world’s great economic success stories.

We have kept to our long term economic plan … and we can see the results:

Record numbers of people in work……

The deficit halved as a share of GDP……

Low inflation month after month and interest rates at near record lows…

…and a recovery from the financial crisis that has outstripped our competitors.

That’s a stark contrast to continental Europe, much of which is still struggling to deal with the consequences of establishing a monetary union ill-equipped to cope with the turbulence of recent years.

But whilst keeping our own currency has enabled us to recover from recession much more strongly and more quickly than our European neighbours …. I believe we would be even more successful if we shake off the stifling obligations of EU membership.

The case for exit as a simple one.

By voting to leave we take back control.

We take back control of making our own laws and that means regaining the power to vote out the people who make our laws.

We take back control of our borders so we can implement a sensible immigration policy that manages the level of inward migration while enabling us to bring in the brightest and the best from wherever in the world they come.

And we take back control over spending our own money.

Our membership fee for the EU amounts to around £350m a week.

It’s true we get some of that back through the rebate and the programmes which the EU funds in the UK … but if we vote to leave we could continue with all of those programmes and still have billions left for our own priorities…

… for science and infrastructure to help us compete in the world …. for skills and learning to enable young people to get the best start in life … and for the National Health Service so we continue to give it all the support we can as the demands on it grow in the years ahead.

And by voting leave … we would regain control of our trade relations …. boosting jobs and prosperity in the UK by delivering the trade deals that have been stalled for years in the hands of the European Commission.

Of course we will continue to work with Europe, cooperate with Europe and trade with Europe, but we can do all of that without being run by Europe.

There are hundreds of countries around the world who do business with Europe without subjecting themselves to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, or majority voting in the Council of Ministers, or the erratic decisions of the European Parliament.

When countries ranging in size from Canada to Iceland have built networks of international trade to suit their priorities, it is just not credible to argue that Britain would somehow be incapable of doing the same.

The same argument applies to our relationship with the rest of Europe.

Remember that they sell far more to us than we do to them.

Trade negotiations are a hard-headed business and when EU governments look to their own interests they will not want to cut off free trade with a country which is one of their largest export markets and the fifth biggest economy in the world.

I strongly believe that it will benefit both the UK and the remaining EU to move to the kind of relationship based on free trade and friendly cooperation for which people thought they were voting in 1975 …. when they put their crosses next to the words ‘Common Market’ on the ballot paper.

The only way we will get that outcome is by leaving the EU.

And there are grave risks ahead of us if we stay in.

What my six years in Brussels made abundantly clear to me is that the EU sees only one path.

Whatever the issue, whatever the crisis… the answer is always the same …

… more centralisation of power … more political integration … more Europe.

If we stay in the EU, it will continue to take more power and more money every year and that is the real risk to jobs and security.

And of course signficant risks come with expansion of the EU.

In recent weeks, Turkey has taken significant steps closer to EU membership.

If people believe there is an immigration crisis today, how much more concerned will they be after free movement is given to over 75 million citizens of Turkey?

Turkish membership of the EU would change this country more significantly than the migration flows we have seen in recent years … and there can be no doubt whatsoever that it would make the commitment to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands completely impossible to deliver.

And continued EU membership poses significant risks to the City of London.

Time and again, successive UK governments have been faced with damaging and poorly thought through EU legislation which can be driven through by countries who have no significant wholesale financial markets … and are therefore largely immune from the consequences.

The Solvency II regime is just one recent example of controversial EU measures affecting the City.

Since the EU began to publish records in 1996, the UK has been outvoted on 72 occasions in the Council of Ministers …. including on measures as fundamental for the City of London as the fourth Capital Requirements Directive.

Every time we have voted against a measure, we have been defeated and it has gone on to become EU law.

The situation is only likely to worsen.

We currently have just 8% of the vote in the Council of Ministers and our voting strength will decline still further as the EU expands.

It’s also evident that Eurozone needs to become ever more politically integrated to survive, with significant consequences for all the Brussels institutions and all EU Member States.

Yes, the Prime Minister’s negotiation obtained welcome assurances that give the City a degree of protection from a Eurozone caucus routinely voting as a block against UK interests.

But I’m afraid that these assurances are a fragile defence against the juggernaut of European integration … and the deal explicitly states that it does not grant the UK a veto.

Ominously, the European Commission sees insolvency law, company law and property rights as areas for future EU harmonisation … potentially jeopardising the trusted common law system which are such a core part of London’s global appeal.

And a cherished ambition of the EU is to replace Member States on key international bodies.

The ECJ has already ruled that Member States should support an agreed EU position on international bodies where the subject matter under discussion falls within an EU competence.

The only way to retain an independent voice for the UK in crucial international bodies like the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board is to vote to leave.

I am confident that the City will flourish outside the EU.

London has formidable advantages, almost all of which have nothing to do with EU membership including the English language …

… an unrivalled pool of talent and concentration of firms …. markets in just about every conceivable product ….

… and a time zone enabling business with Asia in the morning and north America in the afternoon.

And of course the City is the gateway for European firms into global financial markets, with some 75 banks in the European Economic Area passporting their services into London.

In the trade negotiations following an exit vote, it will be greatly in the interests of the EU to maintain those passporting rights into London, as well as retaining access to UK markets for all those German cars and other European goods.

So that puts us in a strong position to retain passporting rights for London back into the EU.

There are some who claim this will not be deliverable and that the City would be damaged by UK exit.

But many of those self-same people told us we should join the Exchange Rate Mechanism in the 1990s and then later predicted doom for the City if we didn’t join the Euro.

They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

The benefits of leaving will be felt far beyond the City, not least in a part of the United Kingdom about which I care deeply … Northern Ireland.

Like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland would benefit from the boost to prosperity, jobs and openness to the world that leaving the EU would bring.

We would not need to lose a penny of the EU grants and subsidies which currently flow to Northern Ireland.

For example, with the money we save from leaving the EU we could continue with generous agricultural support payments.

And it would be for Northern Ireland’s own devolved Executive to decide how that funding was allocated between local farmers, matching it to local need and priorities, and dispensing with the exhausting bureaucracy that comes with the CAP.

Some have suggested the peace process and the political settlement in Good Friday or Belfast Agreement could be in jeopardy if we vote to leave.

That is scaremongering of the worst, most irresponsible, kind….

… because what that claim amounts to is that people in Northern Ireland will somehow abandon or weaken their commitment to peace, democracy and the principle that their future should be decided by consent not violence.

The allegation is not just irresponsible … it is downright dangerous.

It is one which the Irish Ambassador pointedly refused to endorse when he appeared before Parliament’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and I see it as a sign of desperation on the part of the ‘in’ campaign.

Nor is there any prospect of security checks returning to the border.

The common travel area between the UK and Ireland predates our EU membership and will outlast it. The unique status Irish citizens are accorded in the UK predates EU membership and will outlast it.

There is no reason why the UK’s only land border should be any less open after Brexit than it is today.

It is in the interests of both countries that it should continue to be so and the Irish Ambassador made clear when he gave evidence to MPs that we would have Irish support in seeking to do that.

There would be some risk of EU citizens entitled to enter Ireland travelling to the UK without a right to come here.

But we do not need to instigate border checks to manage that risk.

Instead we can use existing laws on combating illegal immigration and illegal working because voting to leave would give us the right to remove people with no lawful right to enter the UK.

In conclusion … in around 70 days time, the UK faces a choice between two alternative futures…

One future where we take back control over making our own laws in our own Parliament again … a future where control our own borders and our own immigration policy … a future where we decide how we spend our money.

Or we can choose an uncertain future, tied to economic underperformance in the EU … a future where we will be outvoted again and again on key issues … a future where the EU and its Court of Justice seize ever more power.

Over the 20 years or so during which I have followed the debate in this country on Europe, there have always been those who say:

“Europe is coming our way… The era of more and more loss of sovereignty is over…. The tide has turned… We now have a special status and opt-outs to protect us.”

The words we heard after the recent renegotiation were strikingly reminiscent of John Major after Maastricht… or even Roy Jenkins in 1975.

But the longer I stayed in Brussels, the more convinced I became that this optimism is always proved wrong.

Put simply, the European Union is unreformable because it always has been … and always will be …. primarily a political project.

However hard we work, whatever we say, whatever we do … that will never change.

The experiment of UK membership of the EU has failed.

Joining the EU in the 70s was an admission of defeat based on the perception that Britain was destined for chronic decline … a situation far removed from the one we face today.

The truth is, we will always have a different destiny from our European neighbours.

We can stand on our own two feet and we can flourish.

It is time to become an independent self-governing nation once again.

It’s time to take back control. … It’s time to leave.