Debate

Published on June 17th, 2016 | by Prospect

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EU referendum debate, Adastral Park

By Sam Watkins, Prospect rep at BT Adastral Park

At 12:30 on 3rd June 2016, the EU debate came to Adastral Park by invite of Prospect, the union for professionals, in the shape of Bernard Jenkin MP and Thérèse Coffey MP.

A packed theatre welcomed a brief from each side of the argument: Thérèse for staying in the European Union; and Bernard presenting the reasons for Brexit. Each were eloquent, agreeing some common facts:

  • The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world
  • The EU was a single market of 500 million individuals.

 

Thérèse identified that our prosperity was due to half our exports going to the EU, as well as to freedom of movement and the stability of the status quo.

Bernard saw the EU as being a dated construct, essential while the world was ruled by bloc economies but that was no longer the case. When we joined the EU, Britain was a weak country but now we are strong and more adaptable than the EU is allowing us to be.

Then the questions started.

Question 1: In 10 years’ time, what benefits would voting yes or no give us, please?

BJ: An independent country making the right decisions for our country. £10bn back in to invest where we need it. London is voted the top financial centre of the world for four years running and we would be able to adopt the free trade agreements we have already established with the major economies in Europe and much faster agreements external to Europe.

TC: If we left, there would be a lack of investment from Europe, and no voice over what was happening in Europe. Leaving the table would hurt us.

If we stay, our economy continues as it is. We don’t know for sure what either would mean. but the concern if we leave that is investment could be reconsidered [Thérèse gave an example known to her]. The Orwell Bridge was built with European money: we do get money back when we need it to help our country and the east of England.

Question 2: Given the Eurozone’s ‘five presidents’ report’ and Melvyn King’s The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking and the Future of the Global Economy, is federalism the only way the Euro can succeed? Where would that leave the UK?

BJ: This is the natural progression of the EU and where it wants to be. This is not great for the UK as we would be an isolated voice avoiding further federal integration.

Obviously the least risky decision if you don’t want to be part of a federal Europe is to vote leave.

It is a club with its own agenda and little sense over whether its decisions are anything but correct.

TC: No plans to joining the single currency and no plans for the UK to be part of a United States of Europe. In Europe there are federalists and non-federalists and our MEPs tend to not belong to the groups arguing for federalism but for retaining our market agreements.

We did give away some rights during past UK parliaments but that has stopped and the current government is asking you for the decision on how to proceed.

BJ: Without the referendum being announced, I hadn’t really considered that there would be an opportunity for us to leave the EU. It would be a wasted opportunity not to argue that the UK should stand outside of the EU.

Question 3: Would the UK leaving the EU lead to such destabilisation as to cause a war in Europe?

BJ: Thank you for this question.  This is a matter very dear to me as I was Shadow Defence Secretary.

Nuclear capabilities have changed the prospect of a conflict like the two world wars.

As such, it is far more important for us to belong to NATO which helps more to maintain peace in Europe than the EU does. Our last two conflicts in Europe were caused by the EU: the Ukraine Crisis was due to Kiev proposing to sign an EU Association Agreement; and Russia not being happy by the prospect of the Schengen Agreement being implemented in the Black Sea and adjacent to Russia’s fleet.

War is much more likely in Europe because of the EU!

And Croatia being recognised in Europe as a sovereign state in 1992 caused the war in the Balkans.

America was actually the entity that helped to stop the war, not the EU. Further, it would be the US that would stop Russia flexing its might.

TC: I agree with you that our commitment to NATO is vital. That doesn’t change with staying in the EU. Being part of the conversation helps avoid conflict in the first place.

Our commitment to peace does not start and end with the EU or the Schengen Agreement. This government is committed to that, if we stay in the EU.

Question 4: What’s best to help balance our trade deficit?

BJ: The money saved from belonging to the EU would help us to define how our £10bn could be spent. We could bring jobs back to the UK too – the lowest 20% of earners in the UK have had their jobs eroded by labour coming in from the EU and being underpaid by employers. It would drive up costs but would lead to a more prosperous UK in the long term.

The balance of trade is how we can ensure we retain free trade in Europe regardless of whether we belong to the EU.

We also have lost our seat in the World Trade Organisation because we’re part of the EU: we’re the fifth largest economy and have no seat at the WTO! Leaving the EU would give that back to us.

TC: There are 500 million people in the EU, each with an opportunity to trade easily under current, existing agreements.  If we stay in, we’re still the 5th largest economy in the world. The government is looking to bring the minimum wage up to empower the lowest 20%. Stability helps reduce inflation, making investments more secure.

 

In all, it was a lively, considered and well-argued set of cases demonstrating how the world is working. For me, it made it highlighted that I want my voice to be heard on the 23rd June.


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