The main business in Parliament last week was the debate and vote on the EU Referendum Bill. The vote after the second reading was an overwhelming 544 to 53.
I am pleased that this Bill is being debated so early in the life of this Parliament. Some people were sceptical that David Cameron was committed to a referendum. By bringing this bill forward in the first week of business in the Parliament, the Conservative Government has sent a clear message that we are delivering on our manifesto promise and are committed to giving the people of this country their say on this important matter.
The Bill will ensure an in/out referendum by the end of 2017. While two and a half years seems like a long time I believe that this time is required in order that the Prime Minister has an opportunity to negotiate a better deal for us within the EU.
I was clear throughout the election campaign that my position is that our current relationship with the EU is not working in Britain’s interest. We need to reform that relationship, if we can then I am quite prepared to vote to remain in. If a reformed relationship is not possible then I believe we need to be prepared to leave.
Last week I joined a group of Conservative MPs known as Conservatives for Britain (CFB). CFB is pushing for strong European reform ahead of the Referendum. Its leader, Steve Baker, said the group would back David Cameron's negotiations with Europe, but if these fail it would recommend an exit to voters. Incidentally, Steve Baker is also a local Cornishman and former Poltair School student.
The key issue for me is Parliamentary sovereignty – which body decides how our country is being run. The biggest area of concern for me is the EU's ‘ever closer union’ objective. Unless we can opt out of that, I would vote to end our membership.
I am very aware of the impact that EU membership has on Cornwall. While the UK is a net contributor into the EU, Cornwall receives a great deal of financial support. This important inflow into our local economy cannot be ignored. However, the funding that comes from Europe comes with a heavy burden of restrictions and regulation. Securing funding from the UK Government with greater freedom on how it is used could be a better deal for Cornwall. As with all complex issues there is no simple right or wrong answer and I will continue to listen to your views and concerns. We will have up to two and a half years to debate the issues.
But the key point is that as this will be a referendum of the British people, it is not primarily what politicians think that matters. The referendum will give every voter in the country, for the first time in 40 years, the opportunity to express their view on our future relationship with the EU. It is time to let the people decide.