In a rousing speech, Geoffrey Cox tells MPs that he will be campaigning to leave the EU

4th February 2016

Geoffrey Cox tells MPs that the EU renegotiation proposals do not adequately address the concerns of the British people and that it is time for a rebirth of our country to give us the full independence and full freedom to set our commercial policies, to give a lead to the international community in foreign policy and  to set our own defence policy in our own best interests.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): On this day of all days, let me commence by striking—I hope—a note of humility. The truth is that I do not know whether the conclusion I have reached is right or wrong. I think that the problem we face in questioning our consciences in relation to whether or not our country should take this historic step to depart from the European Union is almost too big for a single individual to compute. All the potential economic consequences, and all the other consequences for our social and other fabric, are of a complexity by which individuals, and even Members of Parliament, would rightly feel daunted.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Cox: Not just now.

I think that the Prime Minister was right—completely right—when he said to the House this week, “Do what is in your heart.” We can never be sure, if we leave the European Union, that the economic consequences of doing so will play in one way or another, but we can have faith that they will, and, speaking for myself, I have that faith. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, “What do we believe is right? What is important to us, as Members of Parliament and as representatives of our country and our constituents?”

That is why I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) struck the right note. For a long time I have remained silent on this issue, trying to wrestle with the rights and wrongs of it, and waiting until we have seen the final version of the proposals to be made by the Prime Minister. The draft decision was published by the Commission the day before yesterday; I have read it, and I have to say that I do not believe that it is a sham. I believe that it represents the best that the Prime Minister could do within the parameters that he had set himself. I think that there is much useful stuff there. If it is worked on, and if detail is provided and is sufficiently substantial and well drafted, no doubt it will provide some modest measure of satisfaction, and some ring-fencing for us in a thoroughly, fundamentally unsatisfactory position. However, I do not believe that it amounts to the rewriting of the DNA of this organisation which I believe the country is crying out for.

For that reason, I have concluded—and this is the first time that I have said so—that I shall be obliged to vote to leave the European Union. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, I believe that it is a question of freedom: the freedom of this country to be true to itself, and to follow the policies that the House and its Executive believe are the best policies, fitted and suited for the interests of this nation: not diluted, not representing an accommodation of, and a constant adjustment to, the competing interests of 29 member states, but following the path that this nation sets and that is right for this nation’s interests. For 40 years we have shifted, adjusted and felt uneasy in our skins at the compromises we have had to make as a consequence of our adherence to the Union.

I say to our partners in the European Union that this is not an act of hostility. It is a rebirth of our country in its full independence and its full freedom, to enable us to set our commercial policies, to be decisive and clear and give a lead to the international community in foreign policy, to set our own defence policy in the way we judge to be in the best interests of those we represent, to enable us to have clear lines of democratic accountability and to fulfil the spirit and genius of our own nation.

I say to this House and to those who listen outside: let us trust in the genius of our own people. Before 1974, did this country do so badly? Were we not leaders in the development of human rights? Did we not have 400 years of peaceful political evolution? This country does not have to be afraid of resuming its own independent self-governance. We can offer more to the world by that means than by being a muted voice in a big organisation with whose objectives and outcomes we do not feel at ease.

I shall not attempt to address now the technicalities of this issue or the economic rights and wrongs. I shall conclude on a note of freedom with the words of John Milton himself:

“Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam.”

When he spoke those words, he spoke in defence of freedom and truth. Let us believe in the genius of our country.

1.22 pm

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Saturday 16th December
Holsworthy, Tavistock
 
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Saturday 13th January
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