I voted for a referendum on the EU when we decided to test Parliamentary opinion on the topic towards the end of 2011. At that juncture none of the three main parties wanted one, and we lost.
However, we lit a flame for freedom that day. We have returned to the issue in meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior members of the government. On 23rd January David Cameron made an important speech. It included the promise of a referendum on the question of whether we should stay in the EU or leave should he win the 2015 General Election. UK politics and our relationship with the EU will not be the same now that offer has been made.
Some of you ask me why we cannot get on with it and have the vote soon. All the time the Labour and Lib Dem parties are against we do not have the votes to get it through the House of Commons. Mr Cameron also thinks the UK should first seek to negotiate a new relationship with our partners that reflects the mood in Britain, and the needs of the countries that are not in the Euro and do not wish to join the much closer union they now are creating. Armed with the results of that negotiation, UK voters can then make a better informed choice about whether to stay or go.
Some say the rest of the EU will refuse to negotiate a new relationship with the UK. I think that misreads the situation. Already several countries are acknowledging that there need to be changes in the EU to deal with the lack of democracy, the excess of interference by the EU in member states, and the lack of economic success. As sensible German commentators and political figures have admitted, were the UK to vote to leave the EU Germany would want to negotiate a free trade agreement with us, as Germany sells us so many goods at the moment.
There are those who want to scare us into believing we cannot change our relationship. They say if we do not put with the current EU we will lose trade access and lose jobs that depend on selling products into the continental market. Some of these people are the very same people who warned us that if we did not join the Euro we would lose the City of London and all the jobs that go with it. Many countries sell successfully into the EU without being members, and the rest of the EU values doing business with us. I cannot see how any of that is at risk, just because we want to change things for the better.
Some also say overseas companies wanting to invest in Europe will not come to the UK if we are unhappy about our membership of the EU. Again we were warned that the Japanese car factories would pull out if we did not join the Euro. They are still here, and have expanded a lot in the last decade.
I am glad Mr Cameron has spoken up. He was right to say we do not wish to join their political and tax union. The UK is an island nation, open to the wider world. We want to be friends with our European neighbours, and trade with them, but we do not wish to be governed by them.