Is Project Fear working? #NSEU panel looks at a future in and out of the Union.
‘Looking to the Future: Britain and the EU’ hosted by the New Statesman, took place at Church House, Wesminster on Tuesday 5th April 2016. It took place on the day the Daily Telegraph declared the ‘Project Fear was working’, with an OBR poll finding there was 51% support the Remain campaign, with 44% intending to vote Leave.
A varied panel, across the political spectrum, prompted an interesting debate that focused around security, democracy and trade.
Lord Charles Falconer, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor(In)
Tim Martin, Founder and CEO, Wetherspoons (Out)
Anna Soubry, Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (In)
Polly Toynbee, Journalist, Guardian (In)
Steven Woolfe, UKIP MEP and Spokesman on Migration and Financial Affairs. (Out)
Conversation focused around some key topics:
The main argument from the Iners on this topic was around the importance of being in the EU to share information, especially the Prum arrangements and Schengen Information System, both of which we would have to withdraw from if we left the EU. The Outers argued that we already engage in information-sharing with non-EU countries, and that we would simply make the same agreements with Europe once we were out of it.
Tim Martin and Steven Woolfe’s central point was that membership of the EU does not provide us with an accountable democracy and that European institutions are simply too remote. Lord Falconer rebutted by stating that we have made a democratic choice to join the union – arguing that surely the referendum was an example of this. Anna Soubry added that democracy in Europe is not helped by that fact that our MEPs are not of high quality and that we’re seen as a ‘petulant child’ there rather than a practical and constructive addition. Steven Woolfe MEP wasn’t very pleased with that comment.
The panel flagged that 44% of our trade is with the EU with Anna Soubry stating that removing ourselves from the union could plunge us into economic turmoil as we untangle ourselves from the Union. The audience raised questions about whether we would become more dependent on China and Russia as trade partners, to which Lord Falconer replied that our relationships with both of those countries was complex and an issue we would have to take on, but that it would not be helped by leaving the EU. Neither Outers directly answered this issue.
The panel seemed largely uninformed about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Steven Woolfe believed that the EU were working hard to ensure the the agreement would come into force and on the threat to the NHS that would bring. He stated, to quote him directly, “The NHS is really important to the nation’s health”. Polly Toynbee, was in agreement that TTIP was a dangerous set of treaties, but said that she thought it was ultimately unlikely to come into force – with US states and European nations unlikely to agree.
Oddly, migration was not a major part of the conversation. Turkey’s potential membership was raised but not covered in detail, with a comment from Lord Falconer that the nation would not be allowed to join unless their record on human rights and democracy was of standard.
Anna Soubry also faced an interesting question about Conservative division on Europe – she commented that the difference between Conservative voters and membership of the party is a significant one. She also spoke of the need for Labour to get their own members to vote.
The event did not go on without controversy, with some members of the audience alarmed at decisions taking place closer to home –