Victoria Atkins MP sets out her reasons for voting to remain in the European Union

Last week our country suffered a terrible loss on what was a very dark day for democracy.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends, colleagues and constituents of Jo Cox MP.

It is not easy to return to the issue we will face this Thursday in the wake of such hatred and violence, however we must.

We each have a momentous decision to make on Thursday. The result of the Referendum will decide our place in the world for generations to come.

When the Prime Minister returned with his renegotiated deal, I approached the issue of whether to support the remain or leave campaigns with an open mind. I looked at the evidence and concluded that the case for remaining in Europe is stronger than for leaving. I shall deal with the main reasons for my decision in turn.

THE PRIME MINISTER'S DEAL

The UK has a unique status in the EU, thanks to the Prime Minister’s deal. We now have flexibility in our relationship with the EU, whilst remaining an important trading nation in the Single Market, which is the world's largest trading bloc. The new deal includes:

• The United Kingdom is exempted from “ever closer union”, the Euro, Eurozone bailouts, the Schengen 'no borders' agreement, the refugee resettlement scheme and an European Army.
• The pound is protected permanently, with safeguards against discrimination towards British businesses by the Eurozone.
• We have an emergency brake to prevent EU migrants from having full access to our welfare system for 4 years, as well as limits being imposed on child benefit being sent to foreign countries.

The Prime Minister's deal is an irreversible international law decision that will come into effect as soon as Britain votes to remain in the EU on Friday.

And don't forget that no British Prime Minister can give further powers to Brussels without a referendum – thanks to the Referendum Lock passed in the last Parliament.

OUR ECONOMY

Today, British businesses have full access to the European free trade area of 500 million people, bringing jobs, investment, lower prices and financial security, with safeguards against discrimination. This is the best trade deal of all – better than anything we could get outside of the EU.

The EU is the UK’s biggest single trading partner, worth more than £500 billion a year – that’s half of our total trade in goods and services.

In 2014, the EU accounted for 44% of UK exports of goods and services. In contrast just 8% of the EU’s exports came to the UK. This matters because any trade deal would be with the EU as a bloc, not with individual countries within the EU.

What is the view of our businesses? Eighty one per cent of small businesses, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the National Farmers Union, as well as major employers such as Rolls Royce, BT, Airbus, Ford, Hitachi, Honda and Marks & Spencer all urge us to remain in the EU. Why would we ignore their knowledge and experience?

In contrast, the Leave campaign has no plan for what will follow a vote to leave. They have no unified vision of the trade deal the UK should seek with the EU. Some campaigners recommend the Norwegian model, others recommend the Swiss model, and even Albania has been suggested as the economy we should be following! Some leavers want us to walk away from the Single Market completely and negotiate a new deal, but they can’t explain what it would be or how long it would take.

The truth is the EU will not give us a better deal than they have themselves.

This may feel like a long way from our part of Lincolnshire, but it is not. Leaving the EU will affect jobs, prices, mortgages and funding for public services. It is not a risk worth taking in my view.

SOVEREIGNTY

The Leave campaign paints our Parliament – the Mother of all Parliaments – as being powerless and weak, cowering in the corner from the EU Commission, being told what to do. This is nonsense. It is not the House of Commons to which I am so proud to have been elected.

The Leave campaign makes the mistake of confusing sovereignty and power. They are different. From NATO to the International Monetary Fund, our sovereignty is pooled - but our power is strengthened - every time we join other countries in an international treaty or agreement because, by joining, we are agreeing to act as an alliance of nations, rather than on our own.

The most important fact about sovereignty is the European Communities Act 1972. This is the Act on which our membership of the EU rests. Only Parliament can repeal it – and if the country votes to leave, we will do so.

The 'faceless bureaucrats', the big businesses, the experts dismissed so contemptuously by the Leave campaign, none of them can stop me and other MPs from voting to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 if that is what we as a country decide.

That is sovereignty and power. It is control.

SECURITY

Criminals and terrorists do not respect national and local borders. Our relationship with our neighbours is vitally important because, if we don’t work together, the criminals will win.

Leaving the EU means leaving the many agreements in place through which we share information and intelligence with our neighbours such as Europol and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS).

It will also mean leaving the European Arrest Warrant regime. I used to prosecute criminals for a living. I drafted European Arrest Warrants to return criminals to the UK who had fled our country so that they would face justice here.

Through the European Arrest Warrant; we have removed more than 5,000 people from the UK and returned 675 suspects to the UK to face justice.

If we leave the EU, we will leave the European Arrest Warrant regime. Why would we vote to reduce the police's powers to bring criminals to justice?

IMMIGRATION

The Leave campaign has confused control of our borders with control of the volume of immigration. We have control of our borders. Every time you fly into this country, your passport is checked. That is because we are not and will not be part of the Schengen ‘no borders’ agreement. We also make other checks, such as criminal records checks, to keep bad people out of our country.

But I think most people are concerned about the volume of immigration. Millions of people around the world are on the move. That is why Donald Trump wants to build a wall!

Volume of immigration is something that the EU has to get a handle on and we are leading the way in Europe to achieve this. In his deal, the Prime Minister secured an emergency brake on immigration which will come into force if we remain in Europe, making sure that migrants pay in before they take out, with restrictions on benefits and stopping sham marriages. We also are not part of the EU’s quota scheme for asylum seekers.
It is not as simple to control volume of immigration as the Leave campaign suggest. In the event of a vote to leave the EU, we will have to renegotiate our trade agreement with the EU. If we want to trade as part of the Single Market it is clear that we will have to concede free movement of people in any deal that would give even the smallest protection to our economy. We know this because the Norwegian and Swiss deals, two models often recommended by the Leave campaign, have to accept Free Movement of People.

At the moment, our borders are safeguarded in Calais – an agreement that was made between fellow members of the EU. I am very concerned from my work on the Home Affairs Select Committee that if we leave the EU, that agreement will fall.

At the moment, we really have the best of both worlds. We have the freedom to work, live and travel around Europe, yet because we are not members of the Schengen agreement, we have preserved our own border security. When we have a labour shortage, for example when local farmers need help picking their crops, they rely on freedom of movement to employ the workers to do so.

MYTH-BUSTERS

I thought I would take this opportunity to tackle some myths that have arisen during the campaign:

Myth no.1 – Turkey is going to join the EU soon

This is not correct. Turkey first asked to join in 1987, but since then it has only met 1 of the 35 conditions it needs to meet before it can apply to become an EU member. At that rate, Turkey will not be an EU member until the year 3031.

Even if Turkey were to reach the standards set by the EU, any one nation in the EU could veto their joining. This means the British Prime Minister can veto this. Indeed, France has said it will have a referendum on this matter if it ever reaches that stage.

Myth no. 2 – we are joining an European Army

This is another irresponsible claim from the Leave campaign. Our renegotiation makes clear that the UK will never be part of any EU army.

National security is a matter for national government; the UK consequently has a veto on any issue which would affect national defence policy.

Nato remains the cornerstone of our defence policy, but this is supported by our EU membership, which magnifies our influence in the world.

The President of the United States puts this very clearly;

“The European Union doesn’t moderate British influence – it magnifies it. A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain’s global leadership; it enhances Britain’s global leadership’

Myth no. 3 – "Project Fear"

I believe people need to know that this is a serious decision for our country which carries a great deal of risk and uncertainty. Explaining this is not ‘Project Fear’.

Imagine that you are buying your dream home. You get a survey done by experts to check that the foundations are safe and the roof isn’t going to fall in.

The Leave campaign is asking us to invest everything we have without any reliable, credible assessment of the alternative. They are all too quick to dismiss the contribution of the multitude of experts who say the risks of this move are too great. I do not believe these experts are infallible, they are not always right – no one is – but why would we dismiss their expertise out of hand?

The Leave campaign is unable to answer the fundamental questions of what Britain’s relationship with the EU would look like if we leave. They refuse to accept what the economic impact would be on jobs, prices and businesses.

Myth no. 4 – BMW and French wine makers will ensure we get a better deal from Europe

We will not be making individual trade deals with each separate country in the European Union. We will have one trade deal with the whole bloc of 27 nations. Will countries such as Spain prioritise the interests of German car manufacturers?

The Leave campaign claims that German and French politicians won’t ignore BMW and French wine makers when renegotiating with the UK. However, they – the leave campaign - are ignoring the 81% of small businesses, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the National Farmers Union, as well as major employers such as Rolls Royce, BT, Airbus, Ford, Hitachi, Honda and Marks & Spencer who all urge us to remain in the EU.

Why do they ignore the experts, yet believe that German and French politicians would behave differently?

Myth no. 5 – The UK loses votes in the Council of Europe repeatedly

We have the joint highest number of votes at the EU Council, and in the past 12 years the UK has been on the winning side in 97 per cent of votes in the EU Council.

If we left, we would have to accept all these rules with no say if we wanted access to the single market, meaning we risk being on the losing side 100% of the time.

CONCLUSION

Our special status in Europe gives us the best of both worlds. It means families across the UK get the benefits of staying in the EU, including more jobs, lower prices and greater security.

We are out of the parts of Europe that don’t suit us. We will never join the Euro and never be part of Eurozone bailouts, the Schengen 'no borders' agreements, a European Army or an EU super state.

The task of reforming Europe goes on but the benefits of being a member of the EU outweigh the costs.

I want Great Britain to be the great success story of the 21st century and we can do that in our own right, whilst standing shoulder to shoulder with our friends and allies.

Let’s lead Europe, not leave it.