YouGov-Cambridge Forum 2015: Panel on Britain’s EU membership – better in or out?

YouGov-Cambridge Forum 2015: Panel on Britain’s EU membership – better in or out?

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As part of this year's 'YouGov-Cambridge Forum 15' on 'Polling, Politics and the EU Referendum', Professor David Runciman (Head of the Cambridge POLIS Department) chaired a panel discussion on the underlying arguments of ‘In’ versus ‘Out’ for Britain’s relationship with the European Union. Speakers included: Simon Jenkins (journalist, author and broadcaster); Dr Julie Smith (Baroness Smith of Newnham/Director of the European Centre, POLIS); and Anne Lambert CMG (Inquiry Chair, Competition and Markets Authority/former UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU).

Highlights: Dr Julie Smith

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The last thing the EU referendum campaign should focus on is too many facts

“If you think about March last year, ahead of the European Parliament elections, in two head-to-head debates between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader was seen to have won because he was speaking from the heart. He wasn’t too bothered about facts. He was saying ‘this is what I believe in, this is what I think matters to the people of the United Kingdom’.”

“One of the problems for those people who want to remain in the EU is that for the last 40 years they have felt that the place of the UK in Europe was decided by the 1975 referendum, that we get on a day-to-day basis being part of the EU for good or ill, playing an effective part or not.”

“There is a sense that the UK is disengaged and that pro-Europeans haven’t very often made a case for Britain in Europe, either in the UK or among our partners in Europe. This is the problem: David Cameron needs to persuade 27 other member states that he needs some reforms in order to get people back home to stay in the EU.”

What does it mean to ‘leave’?

"We know what ‘remain’ is – it’s what we have now with a few bells and whistles depending on what David Cameron has renegotiated. And the Government has undertaken to produce a White Paper that is going to explain what the renegotiated package means. In theory, the Government is also going to represent a paper on what the consequences of withdrawal mean and what the alternatives of membership might look like – looking at Norway, Switzerland, [or] the Turkish case.”

Voting to leave will not bring a better deal

“For the ‘remain’ campaign the danger is that we are going to stand and tell you ‘three million jobs depend on Brussels’. That is actually a not terribly verifiable statistic, and also it does not lead to the hearts and minds arguments that we need.

“The origins of European integration were about peace, prosperity and security. We’ve had seven decades of peace in Europe. Europe was, and is, a peace project. Working together we can be far more effective. Yes, there are problems in Europe at the moment, but they wouldn’t be resolved by Britain being outside as a separate entity.”

“My sense is very strongly that Europe is about peace and security and it’s also about prosperity. At the moment it’s easy to say that the Eurozone has been in crisis and Britain has a better growth rate and that we can leave and have a better deal. However, if we left, what we have is uncertainty. We have a couple of years to renegotiate under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and we have no certainty whatsoever that we will get a better deal than now. We certainly wouldn’t get the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour from which the UK benefits at the moment and for which the UK has been one of the leading advocates for over the last 30 years. So, we may regain sovereignty but you don’t regain autonomy. You end up being a policy taker getting whatever the deal is.”

Can Britain have a relationship with the EU like that of Norway?

“The idea that somehow Britain is so important that the other 27 are going to give us free trade with no strings attached, I would suggest it’s a complete hogwash. It may be what UKIP and others who want to leave might tell us, but in practice there is nothing whatsoever to show that the other 27 will give us that.”

"[On the Norwegian option,] yes – we are a bigger country than Norway. We used to have oil and gas, but we don’t any longer – Scotland may still benefit from a bit of it. [[But] Norway has a sovereign wealth fund and is generally able to function independently and export its own gas, and is also a much smaller country than the UK.”

What voting ‘leave’ could mean

"A vote to leave is almost certainly going to mean a second Scottish referendum. A possible Sexit following Brexit leaves a disunited Kingdom and a disunited Europe. It won’t benefit Britain, it won’t benefit Europe. I am very strongly sure that the ‘remain’ campaign needs to make arguments from the heart, not just from the head. You can have as many statistics as you want but ultimately that’s not going to win the argument.”

“If we vote ‘out’ and then start to negotiate, we are negotiating from a position of huge weakness because you are half way out of the door. You will get much better reform when you are in. If you trigger the door and get out the door, you will negotiate something which is worse.”

Highlights: Simon Jenkins


The EU will have to change if Britain votes to leave

“I’ve always been a sceptic about Europe because I think any journalist should be a democrat and a sceptic about everything. I regard scepticism as a virtue not a vice….The only way big political entities get smashed these days is by revolution. The way in which you are likely to get some change out of the utterly arthritic European Union today by someone like Britain is voting to leave.”

“My theme is that if you ask people questions that mean nothing, like: ‘Do you want to leave Europe or stay in Europe?’ you will get a stupid answer. It is abundantly clear there is no such thing as independence from Europe. Britain cannot leave Europe. All it can do is to change its relationship with other European states and try to define what the identifiable relationships that would change under certain different circumstances between Britain and Europe are. It happened with the Euro and it wasn’t the end of the world”.

There will be not one but two referendums on Europe: “I am for ‘out’ on the first referendum and for ‘in’ on the second. I don’t think there will be any sensible renegotiations if you haven’t voted ‘out’ on the first. You have to traumatise Europe to do something. The fact of the matter is that a new relationship between Britain and many other countries and the Eurozone is inevitable. However, we are muddling through unless something happens. And, for what it’s worth, I’m for something happening.”

There are new circumstances shaping Europe and relations within it

"The fundamental complexity of relationships between states has to be acknowledged. When you’ve got welfare states, trade relationships, population mobility, you cannot pretend you’re an island. You have to do deals with other states. Circumstances alter treaties and I think that these treaty arrangements have got to reflect the realities of international relations and it’s not the matter of job or money cost.”

“The EU was clearly born out of a political craving for a sort of union that reflected the sort of security needed in the aftermath of the Second World War. That no longer, in those terms, exists. Therefore it is inevitable that a) matters must change, and b) if you don’t let them change, it is inevitable to get what you are now getting – the resurgence of small-time nationalism.”

The return of nationalism in Europe

“In the 60s, nationalism was a forbidden subject. It was a source of all the horrors in the twentieth century. Now nationalism is the second nature of politics. Somehow, within the institutions of Europe, you have got to find a way of reflecting people’s fear of internationalism and love for local identity. That hasn’t been done yet.”

“If ever there was an ‘ism’ that was on the run in Europe it is nationalism and often right-wing nationalism. I don’t like nationalism being regarded right-wing although it often is. It seems to be perfectly reasonable to have a craving for some sort of local roots against the forces of cosmopolitanism and globalisation which are pressing on all sides”.

Highlights: Anne Lambert CMG


The economic benefits to the UK from the EU

“The EU is a market of 500 million consumers. Nearly half of our trade in goods and services is with the EU, involves 200,000 businesses and was worth £226 billion in 2014. You need to put it into context: less than 10% of UK exports go to BRICs. Our exports to China are less than our exports to Ireland and about the same as our exports to Belgium. So, the single market is highly important to the UK.

“Even those who advocate Brexit recognise that and say that we can always stay in the single market. As a negotiator I am quite sure we could negotiate access. But what is certain is that in order to have access you have to obey rules and every market has them. Those rules are made in Brussels.”

“Having spent many hours negotiating for the UK on those rules. I know it’s far better to the UK to be in there in the room shaping the way single market develops rather than being on the outside and having to comply with whatever is agreed inside. So, let’s be a rule maker and not a rule taker.”

The practical benefits of EU membership

“We recently had the Governor of the BoE say that being in the EU has made the UK economy more dynamic. There are also things more obvious to consumers – low cost airlines, explosion in telecom services – all those have roots in the single market.”

“Having full access to the single market has made the UK a top destination for investment. The EU is the UK’s biggest investment partner with over £450 billion invested here. The figures are so huge you can’t really get your head round.”

“One third of all global trade is with the EU. The EU has been a major force in removing trade barriers. It currently has in place some 50 trade agreements with partner countries.”

Trade relations with other countries challenged if UK votes to leave

“At its simplest we benefit from the EU’s clout, which comes from its size and its 500 million consumers, in opening up markets. The benefits of this are recognised by those who advocate Brexit. So, they claim, we can negotiate our own agreements. We can try. But we shouldn’t be in any doubt that this won’t be easy.

“I think it is very doubtful that we could get as good a deal bilaterally when we won’t have the leverage of offering access to a market of 500 million consumers. The US and China have already made it clear we would be at the bottom of the queue to negotiate a bilateral deal. That will take years. What happens in the meantime? This all seems to me like a high-risk strategy. Being in the EU brings big benefits.”

EU of today reflects UK’s influence

“I don’t recognise the tabloid picture of the EU being a place where things get done to us. Frankly, if you look at what the EU does today there is a vast amount that reflects the UK influence and indeed our agenda. The UK has consistently been at the forefront of the efforts to make the EU more competitive and we’ve had a lot of successes.”

“Looking into the future, when in June last year the EU heads of state set their future agenda, it was remarkably close to a UK agenda – lots of emphasis on the digital single market, more trade and reform of regulation.”

The UK should be at the heart of a reformed EU responding to the challenges we face

“The UK can be influential not just because we are a big country and have excellent diplomats. It is because of the whole of the UK engaging in Brussels – businesses, consumers, trade unions going out there and they are influential.”

“It’s absolutely clear the EU has some daunting challenges to tackle. The events of 2015 have made that abundantly clear. But these are all challenges that we share. I think that the UK has a lot to bring in terms of skills, experience, its outlook and values. I want to see the UK right at the heart of responding to these shared challenges. There is no better way to do that than by working with our European partners in a reformed EU.”

(See the full programme: YouGov-Cambridge Forum 2015)

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