“EMBRACING THE FUTURE”
How will leaving the EU affect the UK?
The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP
Friday 4th March 2016 at 08:30hrs
Scottish Conservative Conference 2016
Smith & Wallace Suite, Murrayfield Stadium
Embargoed until Friday 4th March 2016 at 08:30hrs
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I’m proud of all the elements that define my conservatism – being a free marketeer, a Unionist, a Eurosceptic and an Atlanticist.
I believe in free markets, because it is the way in which we are able to exercise our economic liberty. I believe in the Union because even more than a political entity, it has become a family of nations who have married and moved and lived in all parts of our kingdom, growing closer together and helping shape the world around us.
I’m a Eurosceptic, because I believe that this nation state should be able to govern itself and control its own borders without interference from authorities outside our borders.
The United Kingdom, is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th century history in a pan-European project. And I’m Atlanticist, because I believe that a strong relationship with sovereign nations such as the United States and Canada who share many of our common political, institutional and philosophical roots would be a huge advantage even without the enormous military might that the United States brings in its wake.
I’m proud of my roots in Scottish politics. My first step on the political ladder as the branch chairman of East Kilbride, Young Conservatives (all five of us) led all the way to the chairmanship of the national Conservative party, something that would have been unthinkable when I first began.
And I’m proud of the progress that this party has made in Scotland in recent years, on the verge of becoming the second political party in Scotland and displacing the complacent and increasingly irrelevant Labour Party.
And that will be just be the beginning of taking the real battle to the SNP with their narrow minded and negative attitudes that have manifestly failed to bring about the promised transformation in the quality of the lives of the Scottish people and the services delivered to them.
In the Scottish Referendum, the people of Scotland chose decisively to remain a part of the union. On June 23rd, we will be asked to settle another constitutional question as that Union.
Every vote in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will carry the same weight and every British citizen will have a chance to determine the future direction of our country.
For me the defining image of the Referendum campaign so far has been that of a British Prime Minister having to take the equivalent of a political begging bowl around other EU states, many much smaller than the UK, and often subsidised by the UK’s net contribution, all in order to secure minor changes to our own welfare laws. We should not have to ask permission to change our benefit rules in our own country.
The fact that we asked for so little and got even less back is testament to the fact that there is no reformed EU and at its centre of gravity is still moving in next towards the ever closer union that has been the goal from the outset.
This Referendum is the opportunity for us to cast off the shackles of an outdated political concept and grasp the opportunities that a new open and liberal global era offers us. We are not leaving the EU – we are rejoining the rest of the world.
There will be different views expressed in every part of the UK often right down to the level of families themselves. We should welcome the freedom that allows us to have such a diversity of views and treat the opinions of others with tolerance and respect.
There is no doubt that our country as a whole has become more Eurosceptic in recent years. The British and Scottish social attitudes surveys have suggested a narrowing in the difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK in recent years.
Data from SSA 2015 puts Euro scepticism in Scotland at 60%, just 5% behind the level for Britain as a whole and the highest they have ever recorded. It’s worth noting that back in the 1975 Euro Referendum Scotland voted in favour by 58% to 42%, but England was actually much more in favour by 69% to 31%.
The latest polling shows that while there is a lead for remain in Scotland, the number of those in favour of staying in the EU has fallen from 49% in May last year to 47% in September and 44% now. Support for a leave vote has risen to 21%, with an enormous 29% still undecided about how they will cast a vote. This trend mirrors the direction of travel of polls in the rest of the UK as a whole.
It certainly doesn’t follow that a vote to leave the EU in the UK as a whole will trigger another independence Referendum in Scotland.
Of course, the SNP are sabre rattling about it. Their obsession is with the Scottish Parliament election on 5th May and it suits their political purposes to be seen to be making threats to London.
There are three points I’d like to make it to those who feel they are being bullied into making a decision on the British membership of the European Union because of threats made by the SNP to break up the UK if it doesn’t get the result that they want.
The first is that we will make this decision as a United Kingdom. It’s technically possible that a tiny majority vote to leave in England, could be outweighed by a Scottish vote to remain, but you don’t hear politicians in England threatening to break up the country if that were the case.
There would undoubtedly be anger and strain within the Union, but we have not heard English politicians threatening to smash the Union if they don’t get their own way. That petty, negative and destructive attitude to the Union is, as we have come to expect, the preserve of the SNP.
Secondly, there is the constitutional position that a Referendum can only be legally called with the agreement of the UK Parliament. Without that it is likely that the courts would step in and use of public funds would be prevented.
Thirdly, the nationalists will try to get another independence Referendum anyway if they believe that circumstances would enable them to win it. It is therefore a perfectly possible that English Eurosceptics who voted to remain in the EU because of their worries about the integrity of the Union could find themselves with the worst of both worlds – locked into ever closer union in the EU with the Union imperilled anyway.
A decision of this magnitude for the country needs to be taken on the big issues about our place in the world and our freedom to determine our own laws. It is a decision for the whole of the UK made by all citizens of the UK with equal weight being given to each and every one.
In any case, any case made for Scottish independence, were we to leave the EU would be taken against a very different backdrop with the slump in the oil price and the knowledge that any eventual rejoining of the EU would require the loss of the pound and the adoption of the Euro. Only a madman would voluntarily join the economic risk that the Eurozone now represents.
No, I simply do not believe that a vote to leave the EU will inevitably lead to the breakup of the EU. That claim lies at the unhappy conjunction of the Scottish nationalists and the Remain camp, an unholy alliance if ever there was one.
It is sad but unsurprising that those that want the British people to be kept in the European Union have launched what they call "Project Fear." This is designed to make the British People afraid of change. Yet change cannot be avoided. Whatever voters want, they cannot vote for the status quo.
The choice will be for either membership of the European Union that will continue to integrate its institutions and policies in the drive for ever closer union or it will be for a Britain that is able to make its own laws, control its own borders and determine its own future, without interference from Brussels. President Roosevelt said back in 1933 that we "have nothing to fear but fear itself." It's just as true today.
So the next thing that they want to peddle is that if Britain leaves the European Union we will become isolated. We will be on our own, they say, it will be a leap into the dark.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If we leave the EU, we will still have a permanent seat on the Security Council of the UN. We will still be at the heart of the Commonwealth. We will still be one of the world’s top 10 economies. We will still have the world’s fifth biggest defence budget. We will still be members of the G7 and the G 20. We will still be one of the key players in NATO, with a special relationship with the United States. We will still be a market that the remaining EU countries need to export to – we import far more from them than they do from us -so getting a free trade agreement is more urgent for them. This is no isolation. This is no leap in the dark. This country has never been isolated, but what we have been is proud and independent and free.
And it's because of our pride and our independence and our freedom we were able to save the European continent twice in the twentieth century from their own folly. Those who are intent on talking Britain down and telling us that we can’t cope without the institutions of the EU and the administration of the Brussels bureaucracy do not understand our country or its history.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those who says that nothing good has come from the European Union. It has, I believe, achieved two great feats.
The first was to help Spain, Portugal and Greece transition from military dictatorships into Democratic Western states.
The second was to act as a beacon to those under Soviet tyranny, reminding them that there was a different future possible, embracing democracy, prosperity and freedom.
But I believe that the European Union never fully understood the implications of the fall of the Berlin Wall or the new world that it ushered in.
By continuing on the same trajectory that its founding fathers had set in in an entirely different era, and compounding this with the disasters of the Euro and the Schengen agreement, they have made Europe less relevant in a global context and condemned millions of its citizens to unnecessary unemployment and hardship.
I never believed that the recent so-called renegotiation would achieve much. I have no doubt about the sincerity or commitment that the Prime Minister showed to the process. But the simple truth is that our EU partners have no intention of undertaking the fundamental review that is required to put the EU on a stable political, social and economic path.
We didn’t get control of our own law-making and achieved no treaty change. The European Court still has the final say on our laws so we cannot escape from the concept of ever closer union. We didn’t ask for any change to the free movement of people and so we will continue to have mass migration from the European Union as the British economy continues to grow, while Europe stagnates. On top of all of this we are subsidising the whole process to the tune of £55 million per day, £10 billion per year, or the equivalent of one new hospital every week. That is money that would be better spent in Britain – in every part of Britain.
We’ve seen the deal. We know what awaits us if we remain. It is time for us to embrace the future with pride and confidence, secure in the knowledge of what our people can achieve together, more open to the wider world and the exciting future it offers.
It’s time to take control. It’s time to go.