Paddy Ashdown visited Chester today to campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union , ahead of the vote on the 23rd June. His visit follows Nigel “I love Europe but I hate the European Union” Farage last year, as the public debate intensifies.
Ashdown told the press that the vote would “go down in the history books” as the most important decision faced by the British people since 1945, and that it was about “keeping the Great in Great Britain”. He argued that a vote to leave would trigger another Scottish referendum as well as enflaming Welsh nationalism leading to the eventual breakup of the UK. “Is President Obama wrong?” he asked when listing those in favour of our continued membership, saying a vote to leave would be a vote for isolationism which would threaten our position on the UN Security council.
He said that the economic costs of leaving the EU would also be high, as although the costs of membership could be clawed back, the result would be higher interest rates with particular impact on the national debt , as well as new economic tariffs which would damage business.
Paddy rejected criticism of the EU’s “democratic deficit” saying that the European system was based on the British parliamentary democracy, with the Council of Minister’s holding the real power, “our own elected people”. He also dismissed concerns about immigration linked to terrorism saying that “because of globalisation, the enemy is inside the walls instead of outside. Terrorism is international, crime is international…”
How would you bring the European institutions closer to the people and do you think the British will ever feel truly “European” ?
I don’t think its about the British people feeling European any more than the French people feeling European. They feel French, we feel British and we always will. But I think we can be British and European. That can make us stronger. If you’d asked me as Paddy Ashdown when I was a soldier in the 1960s I would have said I was British. Today I have to say I’m Irish by blood, I belong to the community of the West Country of Britain, I’m British and I’m European. We have the unique advantage of being able to be citizens of not just Great Britain but also of Europe. It doesn’t make us less British.
What would an “out ” vote mean to Chester and particularly the rural community ?
We have just heard from Mr Gove, that one of the first propositions is to open Britain to a flood of cheap agricultural inputs. That’s the end of our farming industry. Goodbye. Of course the next one will be goodbye steel. The truth is that there is only one way that Brexit can be made to work, and that’s to open Britain up to cheap competition from anywhere in the world, the second is to continue the level of immigration at present levels, the third is to make a bonfire of all the regulations that protect our workers. If that’s the country you want, vote out.
Is there too much scaremongering from both sides of the campaign?
I’m afraid to say scaremongering is what happens during elections. My recommendation to people is, if you can’t make your mind up how to vote, listen to those that are completely independent, the IMF, the Bank of England, the OECD, all of those powerful instutions who are govering the world economy.. all of whom are clear that any attempt to leave would damage our economy.
What would you say to those concerned by increased immigration ? Particularly if Turkey joins the EU
We have an absolute control of our borders and theres no reason why they should come in , any more than when Romania came in .. We have a capacity to say no to people and that won’t change.
What are your memories of Chester ?
I remember meeting with my Lib Dem friends when I was here, when we campaigning on the doorstep. I remember one day, must have been around this time of year when we were campaigning for the local government elections, I remember my friend and I went for a walk around Chester’s walls, I’ll never forget that.
Mr Ashdown and his Lib Dem friends then spent over an hour campaigning at the Cross, which unlike John Prescott’s clash with a heckler last year, was peaceful and incident free. Before heading off to charge his mobile phone, Paddy chatted to a group of visiting French students, who probably had no idea who he was.
The EU vote is on the 23rd June.