Opinion: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London Manchester Evening News
Britain is facing a historic decision on June 23rd that gives us the opportunity to leave the European Union.
I hope we take a lesson from Greater Manchester, a pioneer of the new wave of devolution in England and the first local authority to take back control of its own health budget. People here know what it means to regain power and accountability from faraway bureaucrats and I hope that enthusiasm will take hold across the country.
In the 1975 referendum, when Britain voted yes to staying in, they put their crosses next to the words Common Market. So it is hardly surprising they now feel conned.
Instead of a community based on free trade, we are now part of an ever-more powerful political entity that has nibbled away at our democracy chunk by chunk.
The EU does not stand still. It keeps moving forward, but in only one direction – towards a European super-state that would turn its nations into museum pieces.
Let’s be absolutely clear here. Voting to remain is not a vote for the status quo – it is a vote for a federalist super-state with no possible future reprieve.
By leaving, we will be taking back control over our borders, over our laws and the future of our trade with the world, the motor that has always driven Britain’s prosperity. We will also be taking back control of the £350m a week that Brussels demands from us. It is an eye-watering subscription for a club that bosses its members around, gives them such a raw deal and takes such shambolic care of its finances.
EU membership costs the north west £1.5bn every year, enough to pay for a new hospital every three months.
We are wasting that money on an unaccountable and failing institution, whose accounts are so riddled with waste and corruption that auditors have refused to sign them off for 20 years.
If we left we could afford to keep paying just as much as we do now in regional support grants, but without recycling it through the wasteful Brussels bureaucracy. We would still have billions a year to spare for our own priorities in the NHS, schools or infrastructure.
There is nothing small-minded about wanting to get out of the EU. It is about Britain striking out into the world – the spirit that made Manchester great and greater.
This was Cottonopolis, the throbbing entrepot with its 2,000 great warehouses trading across the oceans, and its own Free Trade Hall built to celebrate the city’s gift to the world.
Now, sadly, Britain’s freedom to trade depends on Brussels not Manchester.
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The EU occupies – or rather slouches in – our seat at the World Trade Organisation, and has proved appallingly slow at reaching economic agreements with key economies like India and Canada. We could do a far quicker, more efficient job if we took back control, following the nimble example of countries like Switzerland and South Korea.
Nor will our free trade with Europe suffer when we vote leave, as the gloom merchants claim. The Europeans sell £60bn more to us than we export to them. They are not going to tell the best customer for their cars and their wine to push off.
The europhiles believe the continent would want to strangle trade with an independent Britain. But these are the same people, led as ever by the CBI, who warned us in the 1990s that it would be a disaster if we left the Exchange Rate Mechanism and later that we would be doomed if we stayed out of the euro. We ignored them on both occasions and as a result are now outstripping our continental friends who shackled themselves to the euro.
If we stayed, we would be agreeing to remain part of a ratchet system that drives ever-more power to the EU. Already, between a half and two thirds of our laws are sent down from Brussels. This thicket of red tape is a nightmare for small and medium-sized businesses, who have to follow Brussels rules even though fewer than one in 20 trade with Europe.
Across the north west, 99% of businesses are SMEs, providing more than two thirds of the jobs. They reject the arguments for the EU and its single market. They believe Brussels rules make it harder rather than easier to take on new people.
The 100 most damaging EU rules are estimated to load £33bn of costs on to the economy. If we leave, we are not suddenly going to scrap everything like entitlements to holiday and restrictions on working hours. The point is that we will be able to decide what makes sense for Britain.
With a little self-confidence, we can take back control from the bureaucrats and judges of Brussels, hold our elected representatives accountable for the laws they pass and boot them out for their failures. Jobs, freedom and democracy – they are compelling reasons to Vote Leave on June 23rd.
n Boris Johnson will be addressing Brexit campaigners during an event on Friday 15 April at Old Granada Studios, Manchester