(Title Image: ITV)
With under two weeks left until we go to the polls to decide whether the UK remains or leaves the European Union, both campaigns will step up their efforts to get our votes.
There’ve been a number of smaller one-on-one televised debates so far (including Carwyn Jones v Nigel Farage in January), but I’m going to concentrate on the final two “proper”debates.
I’m not sure if there’s anything planned at a Welsh level yet, though it looks as though there’s a backbench Assembly debate on EU membership scheduled for next Wednesday (15thJune) and BBC Radio Wales will host a debate on June 23rd, which seems a bit late to me.
ITV held their main debate last night. There’s another being held by the BBC at Wembley Arena on June 21st which will be my second write-up.
I’m not going to cover individual contributions and I’ll give my verdict on their performance as a team. I’ll do the same thing next time.
- Boris Johnson MP (Con, Uxbridge & South Rislip); former Mayor of London (2008-2016).
- Andrea “Take Back Control” Leadsom MP (Con, South Northamptonshire); UK Minister of State for Energy and Taking Back Control.
- Gisela Stuart MP (Lab, Birmingham Edgbaston); drafted proposed European Constitution under Tony Blair.
In their opening statements, we were reminded that the EU was run by an unelected elite, who were indifferent to the suffering their policies cause. Experts had been wrong about the European project in the past and they’re wrong now; if you had a choice to join the EU today the answer would be no.
On immigration, the Remain campaign were offering no solutions and David Cameron didn’t get any concessions on immigration in his renegotiation. Leave propose an Australian-style points system based on an immigrants skills, as the current system discriminated against non-EU citizens and is uncontrollable, resulting in lower wages and pressure on schools and the NHS.
80% of the world’s economies were outside the EU single market and more than 20 non-EU countries did better in exporting services than those inside the EU. Only 6% of small businesses export to the EU and a majority of them believe the UK should negotiate its own trade deals. A few senior business people are convinced “nothing much” would happen as a result of Brexit and there would be no “shock”; the only expert worth listening to is “you”/the voter.
The UK needs to take back the “£350million a week” that goes to the EU and properly plan public services. To do that we need to know how big the population is, so immigration needs to be controlled. We can’t recruit the people we would like to work in the NHS due to free movement rules; an example was given of London being left to recruit Australian paramedics due to their English language skills, but they found it tougher to come here than EU migrants.
On women’s and employment rights, they’ve always been more progressive in the UK and the result of strong trade unions and government action. It was “nonsense” to think the EU protects women;Barbara Castle – a champion for women’s rights – argued against single market membership in 1975 (though she eventually became an MEP). Employment rights are meaningless without jobs, and EU growth was very low.
When it comes to sovereignty, it should be defined as “You, the people, are in charge” with the ability to sack decision-makers. That can’t happen in the EU as they make regulations but you can’t get rid of the people making them. The UK has been constantly outvoted in the EU, and the Volkswagen scandal was a “collusion between Brussels bureaucrats and the car industry”, caused by an absence of democracy.
We should trust the Leave campaign because they were dealing with “cold hard facts” on what’s happening in the EU, which has grown beyond its original construct. The UK has enormous strengths in the world, and the future would be very bright indeed if we “take back control”.
Verdict : Everything was about immigration, controlling which would solve the world’s ills it appears. The Leave campaign aren’t in government so can’t introduce any new policies and can’t make any promises. Of the two sides they were clearly the more passionate and committed to their cause, but their enthusiasm wasn’t made up for with firm grounding in reality – it all seemed a a bitChicken Little.
- Angela Eagle MP (Lab, Wallasey); Shadow UK Secretary for Business, Innovation & Skills.
- Amber Rudd MP (Con, Hastings & Rye); UK Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change.
- Nicola Sturgeon MSP (SNP, Glasgow Southside); First Minister of Scotland (2014-)
The UK was “stronger, safer and better off” by being in the EU. Membership gives the UK influence to deal with the world’s big problems, access to world’s largest market and we know what we get if we vote Remain. The EU is made up of independent countries working together for the benefit of all, and the choice we make on June 23rd will affect our prospects for generations to come.
It was important immigration is properly managed and it was accepted it puts pressures on public services, but Leave were offering simplistic solutions to big challenges. The answer should be to properly invest in public services. EU migrants also bring skills with them – up to 200,000 work in key public services like the NHS – and freedom of movement works both ways with up to 2 million UK citizens living in other parts of the EU.
The EU enables the UK to trade without extra costs and with harmonised regulations; 3 million UK jobs are linked to it while more than 40% of exports for to the UK. Outside the EU, imports and exports could become more expensive and 9 in 10 economists were in consensus in supporting Remain. The UK needs to be at the top tables to write the rules, while countries outside the EU but still in the free market (EEA), like Norway, have no say.
The NHS can’t be improved without a strong economy, and you can’t have a strong economy without being in the EU as the economy would shrink and there would be less money to invest; the Leave campaigns promise of extra money is “a con”. You’re also more likely to be treated by an immigrant on the NHS than be treated in a bed next to an immigrant. The EU grants free emergency care to everyone whole UK citizens living abroad benefit from that.
Remain campaigners were worried about the future of employment rights, as EU treaties guarantee equal pay between men and women, maternity rights and provides a floor to prevent a race to the bottom on employment law. Boris Johnson has personally argued to get rid of a vast swathe of employment laws.
On the issue of sovereignty, independent countries have to work together for the common benefit, like on climate change and global security. The UK needs to project our values internationally and have influence outside the UK. Cutting ourselves off would send a poor message to the world and both independence and interdependence are part of the modern life.
We should trust the Remain side because we’re all able to use common sense and make our own decisions when it comes to deciding what works on the big issues. Leave have openly lied on things like EU spending, and they’ve offered no ideas on what would happen as a result of a leave vote.
Verdict : If the Leave campaign’s arguments centred on immigration, Remain’s centred on the economy. Nevertheless, their arguments seemed more politically motivated than dealing with the campaign issues itself; there was too much talk about austerity and not enough on the case for EU membership, so at times it felt like a replay of the 2015 election. They weren’t short on facts, backed by expert evidence, but perhaps lacked a bit of passion and seemed distinctly uncomfortable.
Every time the debate threatened to come good, it drifted off-topic and descended into meta arguments over the quality of the campaign and who said what and when. Hence, I’d imagine undecided voters watching it would’ve found it inconclusive and would’ve been none the wiser as to how to vote.
Well done ladies and gentleman, well done.
There’s been a distinct lack of women in the campaign with most of the arguments being between Tory ex-public school boys. It was therefore no surprise both sides put up women, but if you were expecting it to be more civil as a result you would’ve been disappointed. There were more than a few personal attacks on Boris Johnson (and Nicola Sturgeon to a lesser extent), while the “think of the children” fallacy was deployed at various points.
Another feature of the campaign is the lack of a clear stance by Labour, and Angela Eagle was clearly making a play for Labour voters with attacks on the Conservative’s record (Nicola Sturgeon did something similar as well).
In terms of individuals, I thought Amber Rudd – unknown to me – was impressive for Remain and probably the best individual performer on the night. The Leave campaign seemed more convincing in rhetoric as a team, but the Remain campaign were perhaps more believable and credible.
It’s going to be a long, long two weeks.