The surge in support for UKIP at the two recent Parliamentary by elections came as no surprise to me. I have spent much of this Parliament trying to get the Coalition government to take seriously people’s worries about the scale of European migration, the impact of EU law on our benefits system and the wide range of powers the EU now exercises to thwart the will of the British people and their Parliament.
Many voters think too many people now come to the UK each year making it difficult for us to keep up with their legitimate needs for houses, school places, health services and the rest. Many voters think someone coming here to work should not receive our welfare benefits until either they become citizens or they have paid taxes and National Insurance for a long enough period to qualify. I agree with this. I took up the need to charge visitors who use our health service where there are no reciprocal arrangements for us when visiting their country, and pressed the government to send the bills to other European countries under the EU scheme. It seemed odd that we pay out far more to other EU countries for healthcare than we receive back. I have pressed for a contributions based approach to benefits for non citizens, and want to see the same rules for new entrants to the UK from the rest of the EU as this government has imposed on non EU migrants.
The government did take some action on access to healthcare. It tried to tighten benefit rules, but European court cases are making it difficult to change as much as is needed. It has introduced a sensible system of controlling the scale of migration from non EU countries which has been successful in reducing numbers. The Lib Dems in government have blocked any attempts to start a renegotiation now of our relationship with the rest of the EU to enable us to control our own borders and decide who to admit from the EU.
The main thing I have done to help this Parliament is to be one of a small group of MPs who persuaded Mr Cameron to alter policy on the EU. His Bloomberg speech set out why the current arrangements are not working for us. It said he will seek to negotiate a relationship that makes sense. He will then put this to the voters in a referendum. So if you do not think the new relationship is good enough you can vote to leave the EU instead.
I think this is the best possible way to handle a difficult situation. Most of the rest of the EU wishes to move towards full political union to support their membership of the Euro. We are not in the currency, so we do not need the same benefits, wages and migration policies as all those countries who do share a currency. We should not stand in their way if that is what they want, but they in turn must understand the UK does wish to control, its own b orders, decide on its own welfare system, and make more of its own decisions in a democratic UK Parliament where you the voters can fire the MPs if we get it wrong. Those votes for UKIP are telling us we need change, and should remind MPs that the voters are the bosses whose views matter. Simply announcing we will leave without talking to the rest is not a good idea. We will need to have agreements in place for free trade, flightpaths, pipelines and the rest, so it makes sense to talk about how to do it.