With only a few weeks remaining until the crucial EU referendum, the University of Chester Debating society held a debate on issue of Britain’s membership of the EU . Speaking in favour of leaving the EU was Steven Woolfe, UKIP MEP for the North West. Speaking in favour of remaining was former Lib dem MEP Chris Davies. Here are the highlights from a debate which was surprisingly peaceful….
This is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. . We should be a free independent nation state that has the ability to grow its own economy, whilst trading and working with our good friends in Europe, but opening our arms to be a global outward looking trading nation… We would be more secure, with control of our borders but working with the skills and technology we have with colleague around the world. I believe that we would have more freedom and prosperity. We would have a sense of pride and comfort in our nation that would lead to something that we haven’t had for several generations. If we leave the EU there will be an excitement and an enthusiasm. This debate is what kind of Britain do we want?
“The reality is that this referendum exposes deep divisions about how we view the future. Some people on the remain side try and pretend that the EU is not a political project, of course it is a political project, its founders based it on the history of warfare in the 20th century and the five words “It must never happen again”. Some can argue, with 28 countries it is one of the biggest peace projects in the world. Its also an economic project, the way in which you glue nations. We joined late because we were missing out on trade opportunities, and that would be the same if we left now. We also transformed what was the common market into the single market. We got rid of tariffs and set common standards in energy efficiency and safety…We won’t be in the room to make these decisions. More importantly the EU has been shaped with our values, its a huge success. There are huge problems facing us, huge uncertainties, we need to be in the EU shaping the agenda. On many of the issues, such as the migrant issue , we need “more Europe” we need the ability to make a difference and shape this world for the better.
2.Question about the high cost of moving the EU parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg and back again.
The Parliament has voted consistently against this. The Reality is “its in a Treaty” and its carried on ever since. Parliament will meet in Brussels, and the committees will meet in Strasbourg, ratified by national Parliaments. It costs 200 million a year….
As a new MEP I find it intolerable. The waste of transporting staff and MEPS, the waste of taxpayers money, when you look around Greece and see that Greece has one of the most impoverished situations in any country in the world. Austerity levels in parts of Italy, where you have youth unemployment of 37%….There is a third parliament in Luxembourg, just in case the other 2 dont work. That treaty shows how there is little appetite for reform and change , its an indication of why we cant reform the EU.
3.Will there be a single European army ?
I believe there is a programme to have a single European army. At my first session in Strasbourg , there was a lot going on in Ukraine and there were very many members pointing out the need to have sanctions on Russia. What was frightening to me was hearing many in that chamber saying we should have an army that takes on Russia in that fight. When I went to the United States I was talking to various congressmen and senators about the proposals of what is called the European defence force. The Americans were deeply concerned. The expansionism of the European Union to go beyond what they thought was initially a trading organisation to bringing in Turkey. If you have a United states of Europe, one of the things they have to have is an army. I don’t think its secure to have that , to break down NATO
When the first protests took place in Syria in 2011, none of us realised that something that had started, which would lead to 11 million people being forced out of their homes, and maybe a million being killed or wounded. Its an unstable world. I think NATO has been the strongest force for peace since 1945.I don’t think we should underestimate the impact of countries working together on a day to day basis as part of Team Europe. Locked into a structure of decision making on a daily basis, all sort of potential disputes get sorted out before they rise up a level. The last 5 secretary Generals of NATO have all come out and said that if we were to leave the EU it would weaken NATO. I just go with their judgement. As for battle groups, I think the idea of a single European Army, in terms of differences in command structure, its unlikely to be effective. We should all be aware of one thing, in 8 months time the President of the United States could be Donald Trump and the likelihood of him wanting to commit vast American resources to the defence of Europe via NATO is uncertain to say the least.
4.Sovereignty. If we vote to remain how much further will we go into political union ?
When it comes to sovereignty, every single Parliament in Europe has authorised the changes. You can see “we didn’t like it”, but every county in Europe has representative democracy. Much of this is a myth…. With NATO we have to go to war, if one country is attacked, we have to go to war, we signed up to that. We handed over sovereignty to the International Civil Aviation society because we dont want our planes to crash into each other! We handed over sovereignty to the international maritime association because we didn’t want our ships to sink! There’s about 70 organisations. That’s life, the world is complicated. You have to have countries working together in order to solve the problems we have in common. The EU will remain a huge trading block which will make decision that will affect us. If we’re not in the room I don’t see how that improves our sovereignty
Democracy is important, because its for you to generate the opportunity to change the laws. Those laws form the basis of sovereignty. In 1972 you were told that you were only entering into an arrangement for free trade . It wouldn’t be impacting your vote to control the politicians, and we now know it was all a lie , and they knew that it was all about ever closer union. In the modern world we accept the loss of a degree of sovereignty, but when it comes to important decisions, having an army, or funding the NHS, they should be in your hands. Rather than the European model where everything comes from civil servants in the Commission. Are you willing to give away more, because that is what will happen. Will it be something different in 5 or 10 years. They lied over the Common Market. Look at the evidence of the past…
5.What is TTIP and how will it impact us ?
The Transatlantic Trade Investment partnership… It is a current negotiation of free trade between the European Union and the United States. One of the concerns is that there are various clauses between major suppliers in the health area that can interfere with contracts in the NHS. If there were disputes, they would have to go through the process of an arbitration system, and the fear is that that could cause privatisation. I believe that the government could veto the agreement, Cameron has that opportunity. If they dont veto it, you have the prospects of large corporates privatising parts of the NHS.
I don’t think it will happen because there will be pressure on all sides. We don’t know what’s in it, there are negotiations taking place. More importantly this is a trading nation, the people want to pull out of the European Union want us to sign trade deals all over the place. Here’s the European Union trying to do a trade deal! Why are we opposing a trade deal? Its the basis of jobs and prosperity. Britain pushed for these negotiations and is the number one advocate of a trade treaty of this kind. Trade is good for business and the prosperity of us all.
6. EU law controls EU migration policy but there are 148,000 non EU net migrants into the UK…
When every country joined the EU they signed up to 4 basic principles, freedom of movement, capital, people and services. The people that have come to the UK from eastern Europe have come because when they joined they were promised that these doors would be open. They have come because there were jobs and these jobs were looking to be filled. Less than half of the immigration into the UK is coming from the EU. Its up to us to decide what our policy is. At the moment the economy seems to be going into a period of stagnation, while the Eurozone has picked up and is outperforming our own. It may well be that we see a change because the opportunities start to rise in other countries This is a very delicate subject. There are 200,000 extra people on the planet every single day… Its very difficult, people dont like change. But for the good of the economy as a whole, the movement of people from continental Europe has been good for our economy
Immigration is regarded as the number one issue. When people talk about immigration they dont always look at the fundamentals of what our policies are. There is immigration for work, students, family reunion, asylum and a catch all for people who return and other reasons. In terms of overall policy towards student, work and family reunion the United Kingdom does not have control of its own migration polices because of the Treaties that we entered into. You will have more and more people from Europe coming in. The only area that the government can touch is non EU citizens.
I don’t care if I have an Indian doctor or a German doctor, provided that we need that doctor and he has the language skills and the capability. What is wrong with us saying that 28 countries are better than every other country in the world. I find it appalling…
The Bank of England accepts that large scale migration has been pushing down wages paid in this country. If you want to have a fair and ethical immigration policy, pull out of the EU and force the government to have one that treats everybody equally. ..
7.Given that the debate is so confusing and few certainties, what are we certain of ?
Facts are subjective… I can quote endless world bank reports, IMF reports and every big economist in the world… This is a moving picture. Things will keep moving because world events keep moving and I cannot tell you where we will be after 4 years of Donald Trump. I think you have to go with your heart here… You’ve heard from Steven that there’s a bright new world out there…When people are saying that the European Union is holding us back, you have to look at India. 1.2 billion people, huge trade opportunities So why is is that Germany has 3 times the trade there that we do? . They have the same rights as us. Maybe we criticise the EU when we should be criticising ourselves.
The heart is very important. The heart also has to be based on analysis of the past and the future. That is a risk analysis that you’re doing every single day. I look at political projects and they will not stand still, within that you have to ask what is the basis of their philosophy and where do they see the drivers of their future. Ever closer union. That means a country called the united states of Europ, it has to have a single currency, treasury, armed forces…If you think the project will go down that line, or whether based on past evidence , it won’t.
7.Are we so feeble that we cannot use our skills to reform the EU ?
We sucked energy and mental thought into this organisation with the idea that it was there to transform Europe into an economic powerhouse. But it hasn’t achieved that. When you look at the figures of GDP in 1972, it was around 40%, its going to be around 20-25%. Productivity levels are lower now than they were in the 1970s. We have structural unemployment all across Europe. Youth unemployment at a level unforeseen, 62% in Greece, 57% down in Italy… Thank yourself that you’re not in the euro. The model is achieving the opposite.
I think countries across Europe are following a British economic agenda. Sometimes its sad there will be no penalties for leaving.. It’s a bright new future! Germany exports a lot of cars so they will want to do a trade deal with us. Germany’s number one priority will be to hold the European Union together, because its very frightened of the consequences if the EU starts to splinter. These are fearful times. There are a lot of right wing parties across Europe as there were in the 1930s. Every county wants Britain to stay as part of the union because it believes Britain provides leadership. We do not get pushed around, we are a leading player in a partnership.
I’ve had years of picking up British tabloid newspapers and reading headlines that bear no resemblance or correlation to the world as I know it. The week before last, the Daily Express had a headline “NOW THE EU WANT TO BAN OUR KETTLES.” The impression is that there is some malevolent, totalitarian force pushing us around. Behind this is something which has the absolute support of the current government, and every single government in Europe. Its a little thing called the energy using products directive. It looks at the state of technology and sets a benchmark, and says as from 2019, manufacturers must put on the market, items with a certain energy efficiency. So it costs you less to boil water, so we don’t need to build as many windfarms to generate electricity….
At its best , the EU works. 28 countries. Sometimes fighting like rats in a bag. Sometimes working together because there’s big decisions to be made. “On many great issues the countries of Europe should try to speak with a single voice. I want to see us work more closely on the things that we can do better together, rather than alone. Europe is stronger when we do so…we are all better off” (quoting Margaret Thatcher)
Freedom, liberty, democracy, they roll off the tongue so easily don’t they ? Almost to the extent that we take it for granted. If countries don’t have it, they have to fight for it. and we did so.. from the Levellers, the Chartists, the suffragettes. We have one of the finest examples of democracy in the western world, and so much so that we exported it to over 28% of the world. The argument comes in ,do we allow some of that sovereignty to disappear?
We are losing the opportunity to control most of our lives. The argument is that in giving away our sovereignty we are doing it for the greater good, and that greater good is better for all. The single market exists whether we are in the EU or not.. We will trade. But the second part of the single market is , will we trade with tariffs? The common market that we signed in 1972 gives us that free tariff ability, but that extends from non EU Iceland to non EU turkey. It includes all the countries in Europe apart from Belarus. Are we saying that if we left the EU all those countries wouldn’t allow us to be part of the common market on a free trade basis ? The third part is regulations and here I agree with Chris If we’re outside of the EU we wont have the influence. Only 10% of our business is trade with the EU anyway.
Being outside of the EU would give us a flexibility and a capability to have our businesses look to those who want to sell to Europe and those that want to look elsewhere. Do we have influence ? We have one commissioner. If we have major influence why did it take David Cameron so long to have a meeting just to change the rules on the tampon tax? On the 55 major decisions in the council of Ministers where we did object, we lost each time….
The EU vote is on the 23rd June.
With thanks to the UofC debating society @uocdebatingsoc