Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The West Decides: The EU Referendum Debate

Professor Steven Greer, from the University of Bristol Law School, attended The West Decides: EU Referendum Debate and writes up his summary of the event.
Professor Steven Greer FAcSS FRSA,  Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School
Professor Steven Greer FAcSS FRSA,
Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School
On the evening of Friday, 29 April 2016, a capacity audience in the University of Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building Great Hall witnessed and participated in a lively and impassioned debate, supported by PolicyBristol and the University of Bristol Alumni Association, about whether the UK should leave or remain a member of the EU.
Introduced by Professor Nick Lieven (Pro Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Aircraft Dynamics), and professionally chaired by Dr Phil Sypris (Reader in Law), the ‘Leave’ team consisted of Daniel Hannan (Conservative MEP) andGraham Stringer (Labour MP), while the case for ‘Remain’ was put by Molly Scott-Cato (Green MEP) and Will Hutton(former editor-in-chief of The Observer and currently Principal of Hertford CollegeOxford, and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre).
Before inviting the panellists to open the debate, Dr Syrpis asked the audience for a show of hands. Roughly 80 per cent were in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, 10 per cent for leaving, and 10 per cent were undecided. The formal proceedings themselves began and ended with each member of the panel summarising their case in a one minute presentation. In between the same format applied to a series of six questions chosen by students from those submitted by members of the prospective audience and circulated to panellists in advance. Contributions from the floor followed. Before the event ended, a second show of hands saw little change in the initial figures, with Remain still standing at around 80 per cent, Leave dropping to about 5 per cent and the proportion of undecideds increasing slightly to around 15 per cent.
The West Decides: The EU referendum Debate, Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol. Graham Stringer MP, Daniel Hannan MEP, Dr Phil Syrpis, Dr Molly Scott Cato MEP and Will Hutton (l-r)
The West Decides: The EU referendum Debate, Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol. (l-r) Graham Stringer MP, Daniel Hannan MEP, Dr Phil Syrpis, Dr Molly Scott Cato MEP and Will Hutton (c) Bhagesh Sachania Photography
Acknowledging that both staying and leaving created risks, the Leave team began by claiming that Brexit would benefit the UK in two main ways: it would restore national and local democracy, undermined by the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’, and it would also revive the flagging national economy by creating dynamic economic opportunities, particularly for new trading relationships in the internet age, both with non-EU countries and with the EU itself. For Remain the key issues concerned continued involvement in a noble, outward-looking, internationalist cause, where sovereignty was pooled rather than lost in pursuit of solutions to transnational challenges, such as maintaining peace in Europe and the effective regulation of the environment and the corporate sector.
How would leaving the EU affect the UK’s global standing?
Remain had no doubt that the UK would be more globally significant as a member of the EU than outside, not least because Brexit was likely to trigger Scottish independence, thereby reducing the UK’s international presence, and because other countries generally pay more attention to bigger, than to smaller players on the global stage. The Leave team claimed, however, that by exiting the EU, the UK’s commitment to internationalism would be enhanced because it would then be free to embark upon a much more independent foreign policy.
What is the economic case for staying in/leaving the EU?
According to Leave, Europe is the only economically stagnant continent in the world, the EU caused the southern European economic crisis, and the economy of an independent UK would thrive as a result of freer international trade, national representation on the World Trade Organisation, and cancellation of the £350 million weekly EU membership fee. In a rare moment of consensus, later paralleled by recognition that the EU’s democratic deficit contributed to the rise of political extremism, each side agreed that corporate power needed to be more effectively regulated but differed on whether this was more likely to be achieved in or outside the EU. An impassioned exchange between Will Hutton and Daniel Hannan over the extent to which the UK can currently trade with non-EU states further enlivened an already vigorous debate. Challenging both, Molly Scott-Cato argued that the extent to which any given economy harms or conserves the environment matters more than its size and that the EU manages this better than most states on their own.
The West Decides: The EU referendum Debate, Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol
The West Decides: The EU referendum Debate, Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol (c) Bhagesh Sachania Photography
How would leaving the EU affect young people?
Remain claimed that leaving would generally affect young people adversely since the resulting visa and quota restrictions would limit their horizons, particularly regarding student exchanges which are currently funded by the EU. But, according to Leave, young people would be in substantially the same position as everyone else post-Brexit – better off on all fronts.
What consequences would leaving the EU have for immigration and geographical mobility?
The Leave team acknowledged that it was undesirable to have either completely closed, or completely open borders, and that, while those fleeing persecution from abroad should be offered refuge, immigration to the UK also had to be controlled. It was also claimed that the UK’s current immigration policy is both racist and economically irrational because it privileges EU citizens over possibly more deserving, predominantly non-white, would-be non-EU immigrants whose services might be more urgently required. Remain argued that an open attitude to the outside world is more desirable than a closed one, that geographical mobility in the EU is a two-way street, with Brexit likely to result in up to two million mostly retired ex-patriate Britons being forced to return home, thereby increasing pressure on the NHS and social care, and that infrastructure pressures caused by EU immigrants could be addressed by more investment funded by their contribution to the national economy.
What prospect has the UK of forging a special relationship with the EU if it remains a member or leaves?
Remain argued that the UK already has a special relationship with the EU, other member states are reluctant to concede more, leaving could have a dangerous and unpredictable cascade effect, and that belonging to the European Free Trade Association, as advocated by the leave campaign would, in common with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, entail a continuing commitment to receive EU migrants. It was also claimed that, typical of most divorces, the post-Brexit atmosphere would be embittered and, although the EU would still wish to trade with the UK, it would be unlikely to grant particularly favourable terms, not least in order to deter other states from following suit. Leave argued that, on the contrary, economic rationality would prevail over any desire to hold the rest of the EU together by vindictiveness to a departed UK.
What are your greatest fears if the Brexit vote succeeds or fail and who do you think would be the biggest winners and losers in both scenarios?
The greatest fear for Leave was that the failure of the Brexit campaign would further erode what remains of UK sovereignty as the UK became permanently locked into irreversible deeper and wider European integration including monetary and banking union. The biggest winners would be Eurocrats and big business, while the greatest losers would be ordinary people. For Remain, a vote for Brexit would be a permanently lost opportunity to participate in a visionary, though imperfect, international project, coupled with turbulence and economic uncertainty at least in the short to medium term. The biggest winners would be big business, climate change deniers and a ‘rogues’ gallery’ of other elite interests, while the biggest losers would be ordinary people, particularly farmers, young people, and small and medium enterprises.
The West Decides: The EU referendum Debate, Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol
The West Decides: The EU referendum Debate, Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol (c) Bhagesh Sachania Photography
The event could be followed on Twitter with the hashtag #TheWestDecides and a full recording is also available on the University of Bristol Soundcloud account.
In the run up to the EU Referendum on 23rd June, PolicyBristol will be publishing a series of blogs on policy issues and topics related to the UK’s membership of the European Union.
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‘Filer à l’anglaise?’ 
Brexit seen from France.

Just as ‘taking French leave’ was once a familiar expression in England suggesting a tendency to be absent without legitimate reason, typical of Gallic unreliability, so ‘filer à l’anglaise’ is the corresponding French expression that draws on the old stereotype of the English as slippery. 

But as the temperature rises in the debate surrounding Britain’s role in Europe, it’s interesting to note how enduring and hard-wired some perceptions about our neighbours are, and from either side of the Channel. Even before David Cameron returned from Brussels with what he considered were enough concessions for his government to campaign to remain in the EU, questions were asked as to whether Britain could ever be relied on to subscribe wholeheartedly to the European project. 

When Charles de Gaulle repeatedly vetoed British applications to join the EEC, some of his critics saw this largely as a delayed response to the slights he had suffered at the hands of les Anglo-Saxons during the war. But could he have been right about the intrinsic reluctance of the British to have their hands tied except, of course, when this is done by the United States?

One of the most familiar commentators in France today, Chrisophe Barbier, as well-known for his trademark red scarf as for his sometimes trenchant views, has suggested in his editorials in the centre-right L’Express magazine that perhaps the EU should show Britain the door rather than wait for it to leave.
Barbier’s exasperation is not uncommon and stems from the view that Britain has led, first the EEC and then the EU, a merry dance with a ‘will they, won’t they’ routine that undermines the ethical and philosophical commitment its neighbours have to a united Europe.

Looking at the facts, it’s not difficult to understand the frustration expressed by Barbier and others. Barely two years after joining the EEC in 1973, having banged on the door for over a decade, the British government reopened the issue of membership by calling a referendum. Within ten years of this, Mrs Thatcher’s government was threatening to derail the European project financially by asking for Britain’s money back. Even after having approved the Single European Act of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which paved the way for monetary union, such was the hostility to the European project that the government of John Major was largely undone by those he called the Eurosceptic ‘bastards’ on the benches of his majority in parliament. 

Even under a new generation of moderate centre-right politicians, many of whom have known nothing but Britain in Europe, whether it’s the refusal to shoulder part of the cost of bailing out Eurozone economies in difficulty, or share the burden of accommodating the wave of migrants looking for refuge in the EU, Britain has given a pretty convincing impression of being a slippery partner trying to evade its moral, if not its legal obligations.

Currently, while Europe is arguably facing the most serious threats to its future since the end of World War II, the British government has embarked on a referendum that is essentially an internal party political matter, aimed at bringing to an end a 30-year civil war in the Conservative Party, but which has drawn the attention of European leaders away from urgent matters that concern the entire EU. 

In spite of this, the reaction from mainstream politicians has been largely calm and measured. The recent rejection in a referendum, by more than 60% of the Dutch electorate, of the proposal to grant EU associate status to Ukraine has deepened the anxiety that a vote for Brexit could embolden the Eurosceptic sentiment that undoubtedly exists across other EU member states and lead to a kind of domino effect. 

So there has been more than a hint of irony in seeing a socialist administration in France effectively coming to the aid of David Cameron, by taking its cue from him regarding the negative consequences for Britain should the electorate vote for Brexit. During March and early April therefore, President François Hollande has made veiled references to the possible difficulties in accessing the single market, and also in retaining the pre-eminence of London as Europe’s leading financial market, should Britain quit the EU.  

The economics minister, Emmanuel Macron, has been less guarded and warned unequivocally that if the Britain leaves, potential migrants to Britain would no longer stop at Calais because the frontier would have moved to Dover. Speaking specifically as economic minister, Macron even invited bankers to move to Paris should London find itself outside of the EU. 

Some parts of the media have sensed, however, that the issue will be decided by sentiment rather than reason. So on 12April the daily Le Parisien highlighted a campaign started by Katrin Lock, a young German woman living in London, to persuade the British that they are loved, really, by their neighbours in the EU.  She and fellow expats are taking selfies of themselves kissing their British friends and posting them on line with the hashtags #hugabrit and #pleasedontgouk.  

Prof Gino Raymond,