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Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk comes down in favour of EU 'yes' vote

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Written by: Gloucestershire Echo | Posted 25 February 2016 7:54

Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk comes down in favour of EU 'yes' vote

Europe has divided MPs in Gloucestershire and now Alex Chalk is the latest to confirm his stance.

Writing in his weekly column, the Cheltenham MP spoke about wanting his children to grow up inside a free country and the risk to jobs, security and the integrity of the United Kingdom.

He made the point of saying “My heart says leave” but ended the piece by saying “On balance, I think we need to hold our nose and stay.”

His decision to campaign to remain inside the EU means that there is a split between the various Conservative MPs in the county.

Laurence Robertson, MP for Tewkesbury, is a long- standing Eurosceptic and has said he will campaign to leave along with Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.

Neil Carmichael, who represents Stroud, has said he will vote to remain inside the EU.

Alex Chalk’s decision was met with mixed reactions.

Conservative borough councillor Andrew Chard said: “I personally am a Eurosceptic and I will be voting to leave but I respect his views.

“I am disappointed, but he has reached his conclusion for his own reasons.”

Mr Chalk’s Liberal Democrat predecessor, Martin Horwood was happy to have a response, he said: “I am delighted that he has joined the campaign, staying in will help make Cheltenham a stronger, safer and greener town.”

Mr Horwood also added he would be happy to work alongside Mr Chalk. He said: “I would be absolutely happy to stand on the same stage. It’s crucial, because Cheltenham should vote to remain inside the EU.”

Development Manager for the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) in Gloucestershire and the West of England Sam Holliday said: “We conducted a very big survey of our members on this issue a few months back which revealed they were split pretty evenly with a lot still undecided.

“What did come over loudly and clearly from the survey is that our members are keen to know the full facts of the situation and want a proper, open debate about the implications of what staying in or leaving the EU will mean for small businesses.

“As for the FSB, we will be staying defiantly neutral on this issue – our members are clever enough and independent enough to make up their own minds.

“Yes, we will be there to try and provide impartial background research but we wouldn’t dream of telling our members which way to cast their vote.”

Chalk: The risks are too great
FOR some time now I have been wrestling with the most difficult judgement call of my political life. I love our country. And deciding which way to vote on the fundamental issue of our membership of the EU is something I have thought very hard about.

It has come down to a tussle between head and heart.

My heart says leave. On the issue of sovereignty I have long disparaged the steady erosion of British powers. From its original status as a trading bloc, the EU has morphed into something far closer to a political superstate. It’s not just the flag and anthem. Large areas of our lives are now subject to laws that in practice we cannot change. They are devised by an EU Commission we did not elect, and enforced by a European Court which even our most senior judges cannot overrule.

So my heart wants my children to grow up in a free country where they can elect people who actually have the power to change things, and kick them out when they have failed.

But my head tells me it’s not that simple.

The more I listened to proceedings in Parliament on Monday, the more my concerns grew. With each passing minute it became increasingly clear that no coherent case has been presented for what happens next. And the risks of leaving are very great indeed.

First, the economy. In the immediate aftermath of Brexit, there is clear potential for a run on sterling. After all, the pound has plunged to a seven-year low against the dollar simply on the news of Boris joining the ‘leave’ camp. Thereafter it’s likely that we would get bogged down in a lengthy renegotiation of our trading relationship with the EU. Scorned Eurocrats can be expected to give no quarter; they’ll want to make Brexit as painful as possible.

And how long would it all take? After seven years Canada negotiating an EU trade deal it’s still not in force. Throughout this delay, jobs and investment in Gloucestershire would be put at risk by uncertainty as global businesses weigh up whether to choose the UK as a place to invest.

And this is not scaremongering by the way. Boris himself said, just two weeks ago “Leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty, while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country.”

No surprise then that the respected Moody’s credit agency concluded that the UK’s credit rating would likely be downgraded. And then, after all that effort and uncertainty, would the eventual deal leave us in a significantly better position? I doubt it.

Take Norway, which is outside the EU. Norway has access to the single market, but the price has been accepting all its rules, including paying contributions and allowing free movement of people. Switzerland too, also outside the EU, has higher levels of net EU migration per head than we do. So it’s unlikely it would make very much difference to immigration either. That’s because, whatever we do, the EU will still be there.

As the former Europe spokesman for the Norwegian Conservative party put it: “If you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway in the European Economic Area.”

Increasingly, it looks like our sovereignty would be an illusion. It would evaporate like morning dew.

And although my heart wants to see the UK free to sign trade deals all around the world, my head recognises that country after country would prioritise trade deals with the EU.

In a major blow to the Brexit dream, President Obama’s most senior trade official said that America is “not in the market” for a free trade deal with Britain alone, and has warned British firms could face crippling tariffs if we leave.

And then there’s the constitutional instability. Brexit would almost certainly lead to a second referendum on Scottish independence. For those of us who believe passionately in the integrity of our United Kingdom, a country that is a force in the world and continues to carry influence, not least through its permanent membership of the UN Security Council, this would be a disaster. If Scotland goes, where are we going to berth our nuclear submarines?

Finally, there’s the issue of security. By leaving we would at a stroke lose the European Arrest Warrant – a mechanism which enabled us to extradite one of the July 7 2005 bombers from Italy within days. More generally, the only country that would cheer the instability in Europe would be Putin’s Russia. Our friends across the world, from the US to Australia to New Zealand (many of whom share intelligence with us by the way) are clamouring for us to stay.

Let me be clear: I have no love for Brussels. I only care about what is right for our country. But after careful thought my conclusion is that the risks to jobs, security, and the integrity of our United Kingdom are just too great. On balance, I think we need to hold our nose and stay.

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