Chris campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. He set out the reasons why in a speech he gave during the campaign at Regent’s University, which you can read here below.
You can read the speech given by Prime Minister Theresa May outlining the government’s Brexit strategy here:
Jean Monnet Memorial Lecture
6 April 2016
It’s a great pleasure to be here tonight and to respond to the comments made by former President Van Rompuy.
I want to explain to you tonight what I believe the European Union has to become over the next decade, and why, as a result of that reality, I have chosen to join those who are arguing that Britain should not remain part of the European Union.
There’s one point that I particularly want to stress up front. We don’t have to be members of the European Union to be close friends and allies of its members. We don’t have to stop working together to meet international challenges if we are outside the European Union. We do not have to be members of the European Union to work together to protect all of our national security. We don’t have to stop working together on international science programmes if we are outside the European Union – after all we are all partners in CERN which is based in Switzerland. We should all aim to carry on as friends and allies regardless of the choice that I believe the British people will make this summer.
There is now a very clear vision among leading Europeans for the future of the EU. It was very well summed up in the Five Presidents Report last year, which set out the path towards Economic, Financial, Fiscal, and finally Political Union, sharing more sovereignty and a stronger capacity to act collectively. It talks about legal and institutional change.
That goal has been publicly shared by, among others, the current president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who says that there is a need for a “Government of the Euro”, Wolfgang Schauble, who has called for a directly elected President of the Commission, and by the Italian Finance Minister who last summer argued for a common budget and a common unemployment insurance scheme, perhaps even an elected euro zone parliament alongside the existing European Parliament and a euro zone finance minister.
The Five Presidents Report makes clear that the work towards this much greater degree of integration must start straight away. They want the project to be complete within a decade. It is an ambitious programme for change, but one that seems to have support across the Eurozone.
I understand this renewed sense of urgency about the need to move towards closer union. It has never, in my view, been possible to build a successful economic and monetary union without a political dimension as well. The struggles of the Eurozone in the past few years have underlined the need for harmonisation and further integration if they are not to be repeated. Put simply, I don’t believe that the Euro can be sure of its survival if that process of integration and harmonisation does not happen. But at the same time it is impossible to see how the Euro could be allowed to fail now. The economic implications would be too great. I would not have set up the euro – but now it is here, there is no way back.
We also know that every EU country, with the exception of the United Kingdom and Denmark, is committed to joining the Eurozone – and so will also be obliged to move along this path towards political union.
So I think the vision of the EU set out in the 5 presidents report is inevitable. In a decade’s time there will have to be a Federation of Eurozone members.
But as most of the European Union countries move towards political union, what of the United Kingdom. Where do we fit into things? That is particularly relevant given the subject of tonight’s discussion – about democratic accountability in the EU.
We will not be joining our partners on the road to political union. We will not be joining the euro. We will not be joining the Schengen area. That much was clear from the agreement that our Prime Minister reached here in Brussels a month ago. I know he and the leaders of the other member states put in a huge amount of effort to reach an agreement, and I also recognise the goodwill that exists for the United Kingdom across the EU.
It would be easy to say that this recognition of two different types of member state would be sufficient to address concerns in the United Kingdom – one group of members fully integrated into a Eurozone based core, and a small number opted out of key elements of the governance of that core.
But I simply do not believe that this new world is one for us. If the vision of the 5 Presidents is to be achieved, by 2025 the EU map will look very different. The political union of 26 nations will dominate the map. It will completely control all of the institutions of the EU. It is hard to see how the EU institutions that we have today could credibly be used as the heart of a political union, and still be seen as fair, impartial and dispassionate by non-participating states.
In such a situation and in those institutions, the national interest of one or two member states outside the political union will be of marginal importance. It will be like being a shareholder in a company where someone else holds 95% of the shares. We may have a seat at the table, but our voice will have little or no impact on the final decision making.
That will be a particularly acute problem when it comes to the Eurozone member states using Single Market provisions in the treaty to underpin a move towards greater integration. Decisions taken by as many as 26 of the 28 current member states about the introduction of new legislation will inevitably be focused on their own needs. That is human nature.
But how does the UK protect its own position. All that those member states have been willing to concede in negotiation is that the non-euro states have the right to ask the Council for a second opinion – to think again.
If the Commission brings forward a legislative proposal, for example in the area of financial services, which is designed to help the move towards a full fiscal, economic, monetary and political union, and that proposal would damage employment or competitiveness in the UK, can the UK do anything about it. You know, and I know, that the answer to that question is No. Yet what democratic country could accept a position where it cannot defend its own financial and economic interests?
So if Eurozone member states need to take a step that is necessary for the process towards union to continue, do we honestly think that the impact on the UK will play a big role in decision making? I do not.
And this is the problem that we both share. The Eurozone member states need to progress rapidly towards political union. The needs of other member states will inevitably be of lesser importance. I cannot argue to the citizens of the UK that we should accept that lesser role rather than leaving and following our own path.
And herein lies the real issue for the United Kingdom in the topic of tonight’s discussion – democratic accountability in the EU. The future nature of the EU means that British electors will have even less control than they do now over their own destiny. We will have a tiny proportion of the voting rights in all the EU institutions. What power will we have, as elected politicians, to respond to the wishes of our electors? How can we respond to a demand for change when we cannot control that change, and can barely influence whether it is even discussed.
That is already a challenge. I spent two years as Employment Minister arguing, with the support of many other member states, for a review of the EU policy approach on social security, after a series of problematic Court decisions. The Commission simply refused to do that work.
But if we are still a part of the new reality of the EU in the years ahead, our chances of being able to reflect the wishes of our electors becomes even more remote. How will British needs get onto the agenda? How will the policies of the British Government be turned into a reality? How will the debates in our election campaigns turn into actual action for the future? The answer is that in vast swathes of Government activity, they will not be. The decisions will be taken at a European level, and the discussions will focus first and foremost on the needs of the Eurozone federation. There will be little or no democratic accountability for EU decision making in the United Kingdom. That is not a proposition I believe the people of this country should accept.
There are a whole range of other reasons that bring someone like me into the Leave camp. I think that the EU institutions have stretched their involvement far too far into the territory of national governments, and that the concept of subsidiarity has proved to be rhetoric rather than substance. I think the existing treaties give the Commission freedom to extend and extend its remit, even without further steps being taken towards integration and political union. I think the Charter of Fundamental Rights is already starting to prove to be a tool that weakens the powers of national Governments – despite assurances that it would do no such thing. I think an increasing number of people feel remote from the EU and its institutions, and confidence in them is weakening.
But fundamentally the issue is that of sovereignty and the ability of the United Kingdom to look after its national interest. Its ability to do so is already far too limited in the EU as it stands today. But as all the other member states move towards political union, that situation will become more and more pronounced.
That is why I believe Britain must leave. But I do not want that departure to be acrimonious. I suspect all of us who are elected politicians come across constituents regularly whose lives are badly damaged by an acrimonious divorce.
But divorce is not always acrimonious. Those who deal with it best, and who ensure that their lives continue without problem, are those who reach an amicable agreement and stay friends.
That is what I hope that we and our European partners can do when Britain votes to leave this summer.