As some of you may know, among my duties as a Member of Parliament is serving as a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
This is a body composed of various members of the national parliaments from across Europe – that means countries like Russia, Norway, and Switzerland as well, not just the members of the European Union.
The Parliamentary Assembly provides a forum for all Europeans, and it’s no surprise that the calamitous situation in Syria came up for debate in our last session two weeks ago.
I was proud to hear Members of Parliament from our neighbours around the continent praise the actions of the British Parliament in restraining the Government’s overzealous plans for military intervention.
The Swedish MP who preceded me in the Assembly debate said that our debate in the Commons was “a good example of parliamentarians taking action” and that she found the debate “astonishing”. “We can all learn lessons from it,” she concluded.
Those among the ‘enlightened liberals’ of the press and the cities like to portray the Conservative party policy on Europe as an irrational, hodge-podge rearguard action to keep together a party that is deeply divided.
All reasonable, sensible people – the liberals would tell us – believe in a united Europe centrally governed from Brussels. This is, in a word, nonsense.
The debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe shows that when the British people make their voice heard – as happened in preventing the Government from making a military intervention in Syria – we actually find friends across Europe raising their voices with us, and praising us when we’ve done well.
It is partly because of our friends on the Continent that the Prime Minister is pushing for reform of the European Union.
We need to identify allies who share our vision for Europe: a group of free, sovereign, and independent countries working together to bring down barriers while allowing the liberty of each country to preserve its way of life and way of doing things.
Recently, the European Union introduced a timeframe for the elimination of mobile phone roaming charges within the EU.
Within a few years’ time, you will be able to go on holiday to France, Spain, or Italy and be charged the same mobile phone rates as you would when travelling to London, Manchester, or Edinburgh.
This is a perfect example of an area where we Britons are happy to cooperate with our European partners.
But there are other areas, too numerous to mention, in which we are determined to continue making our own decisions.
Other European governments will be unconvinced of our seriousness about reform unless faced with the threat of the UK leaving the EU.
This is another reason why we must have a referendum so that voters can have their say on our relationship with Europe for the first time in a generation. We are working hard towards the goal of an independent Britain in a free Europe.
Sir Edward Leigh MP
MP for Gainsborough