It’s the topic that will divide the nation for the next four months - should the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union or opt out?
On June 23, the public will take to the polls to decide the country’s fate but until then, here’s what our local East Sussex Members of Parliament think about the issue and their advice on what to do if you’re still undecided.
Nus Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden:
In November 2013, when I was selected to be the Conservative candidate for Wealden, one of the first questions I was asked was my position on the EU. I said then what I have always believed, that I am sceptical about the benefits of UK membership of the EU.
When David Cameron went to Brussels to start the process of renegotiating our relationship with the EU, he had my wholehearted support. But, while the Prime Minister almost certainly got the best deal available, I am not going to pretend I haven’t been disappointed by what Europe’s leaders were prepared to give.
Take immigration. Now I am no little Englander, I am the product of immigration and proud of it. In my maiden speech in the House of Commons I said Britain was at her best when her face was turned to the world and the debate over Europe must not make us inward looking.
We are a global trading nation and I believe we have to be open to immigration to continue to be successful. But people need to know we are in control of our borders. They need to know the numbers of people arriving here can be supported and that we, as a nation, have collectively decided who should come and the terms of their arrival and stay. People need to know our immigration policy is legitimately decided by elected representatives, not a faceless unaccountable body in a foreign town.
The Prime Minister has done his best but Brussels was not prepared to give up sufficient control over our sovereignty to make our membership of the EU legitimate. And its dysfunction and disorder make staying as we are the truly risky option. We need a radically different relationship with our European neighbours to reclaim our sovereignty and with it the legitimacy of our law making. I believe now that the only way to achieve that is first to leave. We are not casting ourselves adrift, we are merely asserting our right to start this relationship again. I recognise many of my own constituents will have very different opinions and I welcome the debate to come which must be open and without acrimony.
Huw Merriman, Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle:
I am organising, promoting and chairing seven debates in June across the constituency. I decided to arrange these meetings following representations from a large number of constituents who would like to better understand, and hear, each side of the argument before making a decision. It is of particular importance to me in a referendum that all constituents are given the information, and platform to have their say and ask questions, before casting their vote.
To ensure I chair my public meetings in a neutral and balanced manner, I will not join either side of the campaign or give my view on whether Britain should leave or remain in the EU. It is more important that I help constituents with their own decision-making. I look forward to these public meetings and I am particularly keen to ensure constituents use these meetings as an opportunity to get involved and have their say on this issue.
Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes:
While I welcome many of the reforms presented by the Prime Minister, for me, not only do they not go far enough, they are not legally binding. In reality, they are no more than a gentleman’s agreement between countries. For us in the South East of England, immigration is a huge issue. The surge in population in this part of the country has magnified the severe housing crisis that exists; schools are at capacity, GPs are closing their lists because they are full and our road and rail networks are heaving under the strain of the commuter population.
Figures released this week show more than two million EU nationals are now working in Britain and the number of Romanians and Bulgarians employed has risen by 30 per cent. Yet the proposed reforms only deal with new EU migrants who come here to claim benefits.
The truth is less than 30 per cent of EU migrants claim benefits. Most are here to work and with the Living Wage coming in to force in a few months, the attraction to come to the UK will be stronger than ever and the proposed reforms will do nothing to change this.
The reforms do nothing either for the town of Newhaven which, like many other fishing towns across the country, have been badly hit by the EU’s fisheries policy. A once thriving fishing town, Newhaven has seen its in shore fishing industry decimated by the Common Fisheries Policy. Just before Christmas, I had fishermen in my office in tears as overnight, with no warning, the EU banned Sea Bass fishing in our waters. Men who had spent thousands of pounds on new nets were now letting crew go because their business had been closed down. What could I do about this as the local Member of Parliament? Nothing. The decision had been made in Brussels.
We have a once in a lifetime chance, with this referendum, to map our future as a country. No one is saying it will be easy but for the first time in nearly 40 years we will be masters of our own destiny, part of Europe but not governed by the EU.
Simon Kirby, Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven:
I have always said that there are strong arguments on both sides and that I would wait to see the result of the Prime Minister’s negotiations before making a decision. Following the recent negotiations, I feel even though there is more work to be done, Britain will be safer and stronger in a reformed European Union. This is not a decision I have taken lightly but progress has been made and I will therefore be supporting the Prime Minister.
Caroline Ansell, Conservative MP for Eastbourne:
We are now only a few days into what is going to be an intense, complex and four-month long campaign. Like millions of others, I have not yet made up my mind how I will vote and I very much want to hear a great deal more before I do decide.
I am also chairing an EU Referendum debate in Eastbourne in May where I will be listening to more views and I don’t see how I could effectively be involved in that event if I indicated now which way I am going to vote.
I understand people may want to know my opinion, but this is an extremely important issue that will have consequences for generations to come, and I want to be in possession of all the facts I can before going in to the polling booth on June 23.
Amber Rudd, Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye:
My decision is to vote to remain in a reformed EU. Staying in a reformed EU will make us stronger, safer, better off. I believe the advantages of being in the EU outweigh the frustrations that are part of being in it.
At Cabinet on Saturday morning, the PM set out the new terms of our EU membership and invited each of us to comment and share our views. I told him that I believe that safeguarding our country’s economic security is what is most precious. We have repaired the financial disaster that we inherited in 2010, taking the difficult decisions that have made it possible for us to deliver our long-term plan to build a stronger economy, invest in new infrastructure and put more money into the NHS. Taking us out of the EU would put that at risk. It would mean jumping into the unknown and that is not a risk we should take with our national and economic security. That is also not the kind of future we should leave for our children and grandchildren.
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