MP for Windsor
Working Hard For You
Parliament has voted for Britain’s revival

This week my vote to give the Prime Minister the authority to trigger Article 50 was one of the most significant I have cast since I was elected as an MP almost 12 years ago.

Brexit, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, is perhaps the biggest single political issue in a generation. Other than the alarm caused by the prospect of a third runway at Heathrow, there is no issue on which I have received more correspondence.

Conservatives for Britain will get the best deal for Britain in Europe

I am proud to be a supporter of Conservatives for Britain, a group set up to push for fundamental reform of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Conservatives for Britain will assess whether renegotiation achieves fundamental reform of our EU membership. If the EU refuses to change and provide a sustainable future for its member states, then we will recommend that Britain becomes an outward-looking, globally focussed nation that trades with Europe and the rest of the world from outside of the European Union.

The changes that we need are:

  • Border control. As the crisis in the Mediterranean and at Calais is showing, EU policy is causing chaos. Britain needs to manage immigration in a sustainable way that benefits British citizens and aspiring migrants who want to contribute to our country.
  • Free trade. We should have the ability to make trade deals with friendly nations all around the globe to bring prices down and boost British exports.
  • Less regulation. The EU has imposed a Kafkaesque system of incomprehensible regulations that kill small businesses, to the benefit of multinational corporations and their swish legal teams. Regulations must be cut and only apply to those businesses exporting to EU countries.
  • Parliamentary sovereignty. The European Commission remains distant and is appointed by back door deals, where political elites club together to benefit themselves. British law laid down by a sovereign Parliament, made up of accountable politicians, must remain the law of the land.
  • An end to “ever closer union”. The British public wants a friendly, trading relationship with our European partners, not to hand over political powers to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. We need to act in our national interest, opting out of more integration.

The EU, as it stands, is broken. It’s too protectionist, bureaucratic and undemocratic. It needs to allow its member states more freedom to trade as they choose, a democratic process of holding decision-makers to account and assurances that Britain will not be dragged down the rabbit hole of further integration.

If you agree that the EU needs serious reform, then sign up to Conservatives for Britain to join a wide movement of activists, supporters and representatives who are working hard to get the best deal for Britain.

Sign up here. Follow Conservatives for Britain on Twitter here.

 

We still have no idea how many Romanians and Bulgarians are in the UK

Over recent months press speculation about how many Eastern European migrants are now living in the UK has run riot. Huge figures have been used to back up wild stories and tiny figures have been used to strike back.

But the fact of the matter is, right now, we just don’t have an accurate count of migrants from any country in the European Union; and recently published figures on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants are, ironically, an excellent example of our lack of hard numbers.

Last week it was reported that the number of Romanian and Bulgarian-born people working in the UK had dropped from 144,000 to 140,000 between December and March, defying general predictions of a flood of migrants from Eastern Europe.

These results are based on the Labour Force Survey, carried out by the Office of National Statistics. While these surveys are great for uncovering general working habits, they’re not so good for telling us about small groups of people, like Romanians and Bulgarians. That’s because the number of Romanians and Bulgarians who take part in these surveys is absolutely tiny.

Fewer than 200 Bulgarians and Romanians took part in the survey, meaning that the drop in 4,000 people working in the UK is based on the finding that four of those people had left the country. Just four people – that’s the evidence for the drop in the number of Bulgarians and Romanians in the UK.

As my Conservative colleague Mark Reckless pointed out: “This survey cannot possibly tell us how many Romanians and Bulgarians started working in the UK during the first quarter of this year.” In fact, the ONS warned us similarly, saying that their data “should not be used as a proxy for flows of foreign migrants into the UK”.

This is not to say that journalists and the media are strictly to blame. Journalists can only report on the available figures, and that’s exactly what we lack.

So what does this story tell us? Rather than reveal much about the number of migrants coming to the UK, it tells us a lot more about the sorry state of the UK’s data.

We need to calculate migratory flows more accurately (see last week’s article in The Spectator). This will involve universal entry and exit checks. Only once these are in place can we know the true number of migrants entering and leaving the country.

Both sides of the immigration debate must accept there are severe shortcomings in the way we quantify migration. The Government should find a way of collecting reliable migration data and resist any measures from the EU that prevent us from doing so. If we want answers and full, accurate picture, we need to have proper border checks.

 

My amendment was defeated, but a 2014 referendum would still have been the best approach

Today MPs voted on my amendment to give people a 2014 EU referendum.

Although 15 MPs (6 per cent of those who voted) supported a 2014 referendum, it was not enough.

It was hard work but I was determined to try to give people the chance of a 2014 vote because this was the right thing to do when the most people want one. Our relationship with Europe, whether good or bad, is at the centre of almost all the big issues in politics, including immigration, human rights and, even, energy bills. It will define, and potentially decide, the next general election.

A 2014 EU referendum was the only way to guarantee that British voters had their say on Europe. When 82 per cent of the British population want a referendum, 55 per cent of the British people want one before 2015 and 57 per cent of Conservative Party members want one before 2017, it was only right that parliament got to express its view.

Sadly people will now continue to feel that the political class is out of touch with their wishes.

All Conservative MPs want an EU referendum – this is not at issue. We’re united, and we’re still the only party who want to give the British people an EU vote. We would have held one in this parliament if it wasn’t for the LibDems, who are frightened of letting the British people have a say. But by delaying the referendum until 2017, we leave uncertainty in the minds of the British people.

As our thoughts turn towards the 2014 European elections and the 2015 general election, we must accept that it will be difficult to convince our constituents that we are not kicking the ‘EU can’ down the road once again. Over the next 18 months we will need to persuade voters that we are serious about our intention to hold an EU referendum. And we will need to convince these people in large numbers if we are to stand a chance of winning.

After returning from campaigning in the South Shields by-election campaign in April, I wrote on Conservative Home:

“It seems to me that the only way forward is if we acknowledge the way people really feel about immigration and Europe and gain enough credibility that they trust us to deliver the referendum after robust negotiations. If we’re serious we must bring the legislation that enables a referendum before parliament sooner rather than later. Even if Labour and Lib Dem MPs vote against it, the British people will know we’re serious. Otherwise constituencies like South Shields will never take us seriously.”

I have not changed that view.

There is now no doubt that many people will vote UKIP in the EU elections next May, as they did in the South Shields by-election. This division of the centre-right may well continue into 2015.

James Wharton’s Bill is a good step in the right direction and continues to enjoy my support. However, it is not a panacea, and in my opinion it is unlikely to make it to the statute book or play a major role in our electoral fortunes. But it does represent the mood of Conservative MPs today and offers some hope. Despite the headwinds I will do what I can to help the EU Referendum Bill to House of Lords and beyond.

The Conservative determination to give the people a say on the EU is undiminished. The big challenge now is how to re-unite the Conservative family behind the Conservative Party at the next general election.