by Theresa Villiers MP, Northern Ireland Secretary
The Jewish community has a long tradition of championing democratic values and support for a vibrant democracy is at the heart of the campaign to leave the EU. As a member of the EU, there are many things we cannot change at a general election, no matter which party we vote for; the self-perpetuating Brussels elite carries on with its project to create a country called Europe.
We need to take back control over our own laws and spending our own money. We pay more than £19 billion to the EU every year and get only about half of that back. Even assuming we continued to fund programmes the EU currently supports, we would still have billions left to spend on our own priorities, such as the NHS, schools, and science and technology to strengthen our economy and create the industries and jobs of the future.
A healthy democracy involves being able to vote out the people responsible for making our laws. That is what we would bring back if we left the EU and became an independent self-governing democracy once again. It would no longer be the case that democratic decisions taken in this country could be voted down in Europe or overturned in the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
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Voting to leave is the safer option because of the big risks we face if we stay in the EU. We may not get another chance to leave for several decades. If we stay in, the EU will continue to demand more power and more of our money.
At the recent European Council meeting, Turkey took a significant step closer to EU membership, which would mean free movement for its 75 million population. The kind of mass movement of people that would result from Turkey joining would change our country far more profoundly than the current crisis over immigration.
The response from supporters of staying in is that we would have to resolve concerns about mass population movement before Turkey could join. But the recent renegotiation shows how impossible it is to secure changes to free movement rights. Delivering limited changes to welfare entitlements took a Herculean effort, leaving free movement fundamentals entirely unchanged. Even when faced with the real possibility that one of its biggest, most successful and longest standing members might leave, EU leaders were not prepared to accept curtailment of free movement.
One of the EU’s ambitions is to replace individual member states on crucial international bodies.
If it succeeds in doing that, the EU will have a whole new set of opportunities to heap criticism on Israel, as it has done on so many occasions in recent years. While no government has a perfect record when it comes to votes on Israel in international fora, we can be certain that hostility to Israel would pervade every voting decision if an EU representative replaced the UK government on such bodies. If my constituents do not like the way the UK government votes, they contact me and I raise this directly with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. They both genuinely listen. Emails sent to me and my north London colleagues from the Jewish community can and do make a real difference to subsequent UK voting choices. I have to answer on the doorstep for those decisions. No such lines of accountability would apply if some distant EU High Representative for foreign policy took over. This is just one example of how staying in the EU leaves us at risk of further steady erosion of our ability to influence key decisions and hold to account those making them at an election.
A further example is provided by shechita. The Conservatives have a manifesto commitment to allow shechita methods of slaughter to continue. So far, an effective campaign by the Jewish community in Britain has meant EU attempts to ban it or impose pejorative labelling have been resisted. However, keeping that manifesto promise depends on the fragile basis of being able to persuade sufficient EU member states to oppose any future EU legislation to ban this practice, a number of which have no sizeable Jewish population and for whom this important issue of religious freedom does not resonate the way it does in the UK.
Furthermore, there is heavy lobbying in Scandinavian countries for bans on brit milah. If decisions on this are left with the UK parliament, I do not believe such a ban would ever be introduced here; but if we stay in the EU, there is always a danger that support could be built with enough EU member states for a ban to be imposed. Even if there was insufficient political support among member states for a ban, there is always a danger the European Court of Justice might find a way to impose one.
An abiding strength of the UK’s Jewish community is its entrepreneurial success. Leaving the EU would open up significant opportunities for Jewish-led businesses as the UK takes back control over its trade policy and negotiates deals with places like China and India, which the EU has failed to deliver.
Jewish News readers should not be taken in by scare stories about the economic impact of leaving. The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, we are on the EU’s doorstep, and they sell more to us than we do to them. It would be entirely against their interests to deny us access to a free trade area that already stretches between Iceland and the Russian border. Even the foreign secretary has publicly acknowledged that of course we would get a free trade deal with the EU if we left. Many of the people who are predicting economic doom if we leave were the very same people who told us it would be disastrous if we did not join the Euro. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.
As regards security, there is no reason why co-operation cannot continue between the UK and EU countries after a vote to leave. It is perfectly possible to make such arrangements without subjecting ourselves to the requirements of EU membership or the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Indeed some of our closest security relationships are with countries outside the EU, most notably the United States.
The ECJ has steadily sought to extend EU control over security related matters, making us less safe by making it very difficult to stop foreign criminals from entering the UK or remove them once here. Take, for example, the Rafacz case, where EU law prevented the deportation of a violent killer. European law is also making it more difficult to deport Abu Hamza’s daughter-in-law, despite her criminal conviction. Ominously, the courts are starting to use the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to expand EU control into further areas – for example on the surveillance powers our intelligence agencies and police are allowed. The direction of travel, if we choose to remain, is clear. That is one of the many reasons why the safer choice is to vote to leave on 23 June.