Although readers of the Grantham Journal will have a wide range of views about Britain’s membership of the European Union, I would suspect that very few feel any great emotional attachment to it.
Most of us would acknowledge a deep and instinctive sense of loyalty to the UK. Few would identify with the European Union in the same way. Our relationship with the EU is an ambivalent one: much of what it does bores us to tears, some of it drives us to distraction. But, for all that, we recognise that it brings us some advantages: that the Single Market offers valuable opportunities to British businesses, and that cooperation on security and criminal justice makes it easier for us to protect ourselves from some very nasty criminals, and some even nastier terrorists.
So when we make our choice in the referendum that looks likely to take place in the next few months, most of us will approach it in a pragmatic way. We will ask ourselves whether the advantages of being a member of the EU are greater than the disadvantages, whether the risks of leaving outweigh the potential rewards of going it alone. And when we do so, I believe that the package of reforms that the Prime Minister has secured, if they are endorsed by other member states at the next European Council, will tip the scales in favour of a vote to remain.
Nobody pretends that as a result of these reforms the European Union is going to stop boring us to tears – or drive us to distraction much less. If the British people do decide to stay inside the European Union, I am sure that it will be a matter of days, not weeks, before we start complaining about it again. But the changes that David Cameron has fought for and won, do matter. They will mean that people who come from elsewhere in the EU to work here but leave their children back home will receive local levels of child benefit, not the more generous British one. They will give us the right to restrict European migrants’ access to tax credits and other in-work benefits for up to four years – so there is no more something for nothing. They will guarantee Britain’s opt-out from any further steps towards that Holy Grail of Brussels bureaucrats: ever closer union. And they will protect those of us who will never adopt the Euro from railroading by countries in the Eurozone.
Perfection is not available in politics. All negotiation involves compromise. But I am convinced that the Prime Minister has secured a good deal for Britain. So if other EU countries sign up to the deal and he recommends a vote to remain, I will be giving him my full support.