Let me start with an admission. I love Europe.
I love its food, culture and heritage. It is a continent I love to visit and do business with. But Europe is being torn apart by the European Union. Its two big political projects are in crisis. The euro has left national governments with huge debts and youth unemployment close to 50 per cent, while the passport-free Schengen area has allowed criminals to travel across Europe unchallenged and unchecked.
Not only has the EU shown itself to be unable to cope with the challenges of the twenty-first century, but David Cameron’s renegotiation has shown the EU to be incapable of reform. We shouldn’t be giving away power and money to a dysfunctional bureaucracy that is in decline. This referendum presents us with a once in a generation opportunity to free ourselves from the EU. It is our chance to take back control of our own affairs and for the people we elect to make decisions which benefit our families, communities and businesses, large and small.
As a businessman, I know the importance of keeping on top of costs. I’ve seen countless examples of promising startups and entrepreneurs who have fallen by the wayside simply because the margin between profit and loss becomes unsustainable.
But the fact is the EU costs us too much. We send £350m a week to Brussels, enough to build a new fully staffed NHS hospital. This money should be spent on our priorities, rather than those of Brussels bureaucrats. Given the recent controversy surrounding the government’s proposed welfare cuts, it is a timely reminder that we put into the EU Budget double what we get back.
And what do we get for this? Is it good value for money? Not according to Brussels’ own auditors, who haven’t given the EU accounts a clean bill of health for 20 years. If anyone ran their business like this for one year – let alone 20 – they would soon find themselves receiving a stern letter from their bank manager.
It is not only the cost to the taxpayer which has convinced me of the need to Vote Leave on 23 June, it’s the cost to business. Research by the independent think tank Open Europe has found that EU regulation costs businesses in the UK £600m every week. This is regulation which stunts productivity and makes it harder for firms to take on new staff. Now this doesn’t seem fair when 100 per cent of UK businesses have to comply with these rules yet only 5 per cent actually export to the EU.
Small businesses – the job creators and engine room of economic growth in the UK – are often at the sharp end of this burdensome EU legislation. They cannot afford expensive corporate lobbyists or large compliance departments to help them deal with the reams of regulation coming from Brussels. The voice of real entrepreneurs is ignored to protect the established interests of big business.
But the amount of control we have handed over to the EU doesn’t stop with business. It has a significant impact on our daily lives. The recent headlines over the tampon tax made this abundantly clear. What does it say about the sovereignty of the UK parliament when, the day after the chancellor delivers his Budget speech, our Prime Minister must go cap in hand to 27 other EU leaders to ask for a change to our tax system? Those who want us to stay in the EU claim that we can best reform the European Union from the inside. But what influence do we really have? Does the UK have to hold a referendum on our EU membership every time we want a change to an EU tax ruling?
For years we have been told the EU is moving in our direction. But the reality is that the UK will be left behind as the Eurozone countries integrate to protect and preserve the euro. This will further diminish the influence of the UK within the EU as eurocrats develop policies to save the single currency. It makes little sense to stay in a club where our interests are clearly not the same as the vast majority of its members.
The In campaign will warn us of the apparent dangers of leaving the EU – that investment will vanish and business will move abroad. But I talk to companies across the UK who have no such plans. They have no intention of moving to the continent, where the Eurozone crisis shows no sign of abating and economic growth is well behind that of the UK. Our economy is the fifth largest in the world and the fastest growing of any developed country. We have a rich history as a trading nation, and UK plc will continue to prosper after we Vote Leave.
If we vote to stay in, EU judges and politicians will see it as a green light to demand more power and money from the UK. This is the real risk. It is far safer to take back control and spend our money on our priorities. And that is why I will Vote Leave on 23 June.