BREXIT: WHAT NOW FOR EUROPEAN AND GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION?
THURSDAY 30 MARCH 2017 at EUROPE HOUSE, LONDON SW1
Teachers, researchers, NGOs and political leaders in the Citizen Education community discussed building a network for supporting and maintaining global and European citizenship education in schools. The seminar was chaired by Professor Bryony Hoskins at Roehampton University and Vice Chair of London4Europe. After opening remarks from Nick Hopkinson, Chair of London4Europe, and Tom Franklin, Chief Executive of Citizenship Foundation, the keynote address was given by Neil Carmichael MP for Stroud and Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee. Other panelists were Amy Longland, Partnership and Programmes Lead, MyLifeMySay; David Barrs, Head Teacher at the Anglo European School, and Tom Franklin.
Limited citizenship education over several years, and the resulting lack of political awareness, contributed to many, including many former vocational students, voting for Brexit in the June 2016 European Union (EU) referendum.
Although it appears Brexit is a done deal with the triggering of Article 50, the UK’s relationship with the EU is not over. There is no finality in politics as the UK’s adherence to the decision of the 1975 referendum shows. Future generations’ will to carry out the decisions of an earlier generation is not assured. Sixty four per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 turned out to vote in the 2016 referendum, of whom 75% voted Remain. Furthermore, many 16 and 17 year olds feel gyped as they were not given the vote like their age group in the 2014 Scottish referendum. Future generations may see Brexit for what it is: barmy. Many remainers will respect the result of the 2016 referendum every bit as much as the losers of the 1975 referendum respected that result.
Brexit will result in major change in the rights and opportunities for young people. The vote to leave the EU may well lead to fewer opportunities for young people learning about and understanding other cultures through EU programmes like Erasmus plus and life skills education through travelling, learning and earning in other EU countries. The education that young people will receive in the future risks becoming national and inward looking. Paradoxically education will become all the more important as opportunities post Brexit are hampered by cross border barriers with the EU27 states.
Since the referendum, there have however been questions about the relevance of the citizenship education curriculum in England and more broadly the values which should be taught in schools across the UK. Topics that were self-evidently necessary such as European and international institutions, tolerance towards refugees and minorities, and the interdependent nature of an individual’s life with people around the world are now questioned.
Challenges for citizenship education in the post Brexit world include: how can we maintain an outward looking approach to the world within our national education systems? How can we maintain the relevance of Europe and political institutions for young people when they have lost their EU citizenship? What can we do to support young people’s future opportunities and rights in Europe? How can we inform all young people about the Brexit process? What do young people need to learn to enable them to have their say on the Brexit agreement? Will opportunities be provided to listen to the voices of young people?
The risk of the UK becoming an isolated small state, low wage economy has to be overcome by an education system which is not just a pipeline of qualification gathering. Education should cover life skills, including the ability to communicate effectively, understanding retail trade and personal finance which can help improve workplace productivity. This will raise wages and tax receipts, and help wealth creation. We must show young people we are interested in their opinions. British companies should regard local schools and colleges as an integral part of their supply chains, not one just of components but of skills and innovation.
Left to our own devices, without legislative backing, citizenship education will remain in small evidence and haphazardly taught. Inside or outside the EU, young people in the UK will still need to continue to learn about the neighbouring European continent, its geography, history and political institutions. The Brexit vote exposed a lack of national cohesion and communities which feel left behind. This brings into focus the greater need to promote tolerance and a pluralistic society, and for young people to be taught about tolerance, especially regarding minorities living in the UK, and why there should be peaceful cooperation with our European neighbours.
All young people from different backgrounds and talents need to be engaged in all aspects of civic responsibility, and appreciate the negative impact of issues such as fake news on the democratic process. We need to think about the skills that young people are taught so they appreciate their rights and responsibilities towards others, and what is in their best interest. We need to introduce new teaching skills and methods which enhance understanding, thus avoiding a nationalist centered agenda. We need to create a network to support young people and inform them of the adverse consequences of Brexit.
Since the June 2016 vote, citizenship has had to be taught through an understanding of the evolving Brexit situation and the underlying basic principle of democracy (turning out and voting). Providing packs to aid teachers remains an important contribution to achieve this aim. The seminar discussed the work of two organisations which aim to educate and empower young people.
MyLifeMySay campaigns for a better Brexit outcome for young people. Young people were overlooked in the referendum campaign and the arguments did not resonate. MyLifeMySay runs café conferences and school workshops. It is working with the London School of Economics and Political Science to identify what young people want from Brexit, in light of dissatisfaction with politicians. It mobilises youth through social media and seeks to ascertain what they need to learn, and encourages them to have the confidence to articulate their views.
In its 40 years, the Anglo European School has developed a specialism in and ethos for teaching citizenship to improve understanding of democracy and tolerance. Although the political environment has changed after the Brexit vote, the school will continue to uphold these underlying principles.
Ways the education system should improve the quality of citizenship education and extend its provision to all education and training establishments were enthusiastically discussed by participants and speakers. A number of recommendations were made: a clear definition of what to include in citizenship education is needed; the Institute of Apprenticeships should be pressed to incorporate citizenship education in vocational courses; we should positively promote young people as citizens of the UK and Europe through network schemes such as Horizon2020 and Erasmus plus (in particular, ensure Erasmus plus programmes are more widely promoted to vocational students); a Brexit UK should opt into and pay to remain part of Erasmus plus (which can involve countries outside the EU); citizenship education should begin in primary schools; and immigration, in the context of the Leave versus Remain debate, should be directly addressed in the classroom.
As Brexit unfolds, there is an overriding case for the teaching of citizenship to be compulsory in schools and colleges up until at least the age of 18. In addition to informing, citizenship education can provide students, who have gained less political learning in their upbringing, an awareness of their rights and responsibilities, and an interest in political engagement.
This report reflects the rapporteur’s personal interpretation of the proceedings, and as such does not necessarily reflect the views of the speakers, participants or any of the sponsoring organisations.
All-party referendum rally
HOW CAN WE WIN THE REFERENDUM TO REMAIN IN THE EUROPEAN UNION?
Monday 23 May 2016 at the National Liberal Club, SW1
The rally with 62 participants was chaired by Nick Hopkinson, chairman of London4Europe, with speakers Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat), Neil Carmichael MP (Conservative), Stephen Kinnock MP (Labour) and Jean Lambert MEP (Green).
Public opinion about the European Union (EU) has been moulded by decades of poor political leadership, minimal education about the EU and incessant media misinformation filling in the vacuum. However, the centre-left and centre-right have a consensus on Europe, and this reflects a transcending national interest. Scaremongering and hyperboles on both sides of the campaign are not generating full public engagement, although the Leave side is more guilty. Polls show the referendum result will be close. The narrow defeat of the far right in Austria’s recent presidential election shows every vote is of equal importance – there are no safe seats. On 24 June, observers may conclude the political class was just speaking to itself. ‘Remainers’ need to elevate the quality of the debate and appeal to emotions as the campaign enters its final stage.
Knowing they are losing the economic argument, the Leavers are highlighting control/sovereignty and above all immigration. Leavers are offer a seductive but dishonest package of arguments but only vague unviable solutions.
‘Remainers’ should keep our arguments rational and reasonable. EU membership facilitates free access to the world’s largest market, bigger than both the USA and China. Some 45% of our exports go to the EU. Almost every authoritative independent economic forecaster, including the OECD, IMF, and IFS, conclude alternatives to EU membership would result in lower incomes, higher mortgage rates and higher unemployment. Most military leaders have argued we are safer in the EU. EU membership has generated greater prosperity and soft security which underpin NATO. Europol and Eurojust membership, data sharing arrangements and the European Arrest Warrant make it easier for the UK to combat cross-border crime and terrorism.
Leave is drifting into ‘dog-whistle’ politics. The alleged ‘Project Fear’ is really ‘Project Common Sense’. We should not take a leap into the unknown. The EU economy is not a basket case but the world’s largest economy. The problems in Greece and Spain should not obscure the considerable success of the German, Austrian, Dutch, and Nordic economies. Leaving jeopardises UK access to those highly successful economies. EU membership has not prevented Germany from having higher levels of exports than the UK to China and India than the UK. Every world leader, whether from the US, EU, or Commonwealth, wants the UK to remain in the EU. Even populist groups such as Podemos and Syriza are not arguing to leave the EU – they want to work within the EU for a better deal.
The UK should be leading in the EU, not leaving it. The UK found being outside the EU, as a member of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), politically and economically difficult. Inside the EU, the UK has been in the forefront of change which strengthened the EU, notably spearheading the Single Market and its Eastern enlargement. We need to re-establish the UK as a leader, rather than leaver. Whatever one may not like about the EU, we will not change it by leaving.
The Greens support the vision of a fairer, safer and greener future in the EU. Member states are highly integrated and need to work together on climate change and other transnational issues. We cannot escape climate change by walking out of EU – continued efforts within the EU are needed. Leaving would undermine support for climate change and the developing world, e.g. disaster relief in Bangladesh.
Most key issues of national significance continue to be decided on by our own Houses of Parliament. Absolute control in today’s globalised economy is an illusion. It takes eight seconds for an event on the New York Stock Exchange to impact the UK economy. The UK ‘won’ 87% of the votes in the EU Council between 2009 and 2015. By being at the table, the UK can shape and push its agenda with 27 other affluent countries of strategic importance. We have to be in it, to win it. If we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu.
The Leavers are increasingly concentrating on immigration as this is the one area where they are making headway in public opinion. Remain therefore needs to be more effective countering Leave scaremongering on immigration and make a positive rather than defensive case.
For many Leavers, the referendum has more to do with identity than the economy. Many believe their country doesn’t look like and sound like them any more. The flaw in this mindset is that leaving the EU will not make the UK any more British. Remain should be more forthright when addressing immigration, and in so doing it can link the issue back to its strong suit of economic arguments.
A positive case can be made for EU migration. We are often dependent on the skills of foreigners. EU citizens often fill in skills gaps, e.g. 9% of doctors and 6% of nurses. EU citizens working in the UK contribute 33% more in taxes than what they take in benefits. Remain needs to expose the dishonest argument pedaled to minority communities that Brexit will allow Commonwealth immigration to rise. If Leavers’ aim is to limit immigration, such a policy is self-defeating. As the EU only allows optimal access to its large market with free movement of workers, restricting EU migration risks damaging the UK economy. The challenge is persuading many voters, primarily but not exclusively outside London, who are unlikely to grasp these connections. Perceptions of high immigration prevail in many regions even though the percentage of ethnic minorities and EU residents may be only 5% or even less.
Pressures on public services and housing predate our EU membership. Immigration highlights the challenges, but is not the main or root cause. Austerity, the policy failures of successive governments, internal UK immigration, and an ageing population are more salient causes. We need to be clear who is responsible for what – Westminster and local authorities manage health, education and housing policies, not the EU.
Efforts must be made to embrace and harness the diversity of modern Britain. We need to approach minority communities differentially as members are unlikely to vote in the same way. We should promote the remain cause via paid advertising in the ethnic minority press. We could also deploy community supporters to contact fellow community members by phone. Ramadan, beginning on 7 June, might present an opportunity for campaigning.
Although Remain has made remarkable strides in a short period of time, Remainers need to be more passionate and more superior in our organisation than hitherto. Remain supporters need to be clear and more forthright like many of our opponents.
The referendum cannot be repeated. There are a number of areas where more effort can be made. Each remain supporter might contact at least five friends, family members and/or colleagues, and impress upon them that they should register at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote and turn out to vote on 23 June. We also need to motivate supporters. Even though most EU citizens (other than Irish, Cypriots, and Maltese) cannot vote, they can still campaign and donate funds. Connections still need to be forged with local groups. We need to localise the campaign and get local business to be more vocal. If a local firm says jobs will be at risk, this often will be believed. British expats could do more to energise contacts at home or abroad. Supporters should increase use of social media, and use infographics which can be powerful.
As with the concessions on Commonwealth sugar imports in the 1975 referendum, success in the campaign could turn on a surprise issue or dramatic event in the UK or elsewhere, e.g. another immigration tragedy or possible terrorist attack. Remain needs to anticipate possible gaps and be able to react quickly. Rapid rebuttal resources can be called upon.
We need to counter widespread public boredom with or indifference to the long campaign. Intra-party, particularly ‘blue on blue’, squabbling amplified by the media is off-putting to voters, and prevents the communication of the positive case to Remain. Labour’s relatively low profile to date in the campaign leaves a vacuum which contributes to Conservative Party tensions dominating the headlines.
More cross party co-operation is needed but so are efforts by the main parties to engage and mobilise their own members and supporters. Whereas 90% of the Parliamentary Labour Party has signed up to support Remain, there are fears that Labour members and supporters are less enthusiastic. Positive messages supporting our membership are required from all party leaders. Efforts continue to try to galvanise the Labour party’s campaign, in particular ensuring Jeremy Corbyn is more visible.
To broaden support, we should continue to ensure our messages appeal individually to different groups and professional backgrounds. For example, more emphasis needs to be placed on targeting women aged in their thirties. Securing youth support is particularly important as the majority are believed to favour remain. It is tough to get youth involved, and more should be done to encourage their involvement beyond the European Movement’s and other existing efforts. The Young are less likely to register and to turn out to vote. Most will have left university and some will be at Glastonbury on 23 June. Students engage more when we speak about the future, rather than the past. Many see Leave as racist as they have grown up in a multicultural society. Young enjoy short 60-90 second clips on social media (Facebook is increasingly used by older people). People listen to people like themselves. There should be more young and experts, and fewer politicians, taking centre stage in debates. Although most celebrities support Remain, more are needed to attract young people.
Remainers need to make a more positive and patriotic case for remaining in the EU. Peace, prosperity and opportunity are all positive messages. The UK is more prosperous, fair and secure as a result of our EU membership. Older people in particular need to be reminded of these achievements and the need to build thereon for the sake of their grandchildren.
Many pro-Europeans have not been ambitious enough in advocating our EU membership. This will need to be rectified should we remain. For example, a cross-party commission to discuss how to engage citizens and to define the UK’s future involvement and leadership could be convened. We should articulate a positive post-referendum vision including deliverable further reform within the EU. By remaining in the EU, the UK can champion completion of the Single Market in financial services and liberalisation of the digital economy where we have comparative advantage.
The referendum is about our self-perception and future vision of who and what we are. We should define what sort of country we want to be in the future, and embrace the identity of modern Britain in an interdependent world. We should be outward looking and confident, not inward looking and defeatist. Remaining can help to progress our shared vision of a fairer and more prosperous Britain. Leavers want to take their country back – we want to take our country forward!
This report reflects the rapporteur’s personal interpretation of the presentations and discussion and as such does not necessarily reflect participants’ views nor those of any of the organisations involved.
London4Europe is the London section of the non-party European Movement UK
Photos of the event are available on on website: http://london4europe.co.uk and our Twitter feed @London4Europe on 23 May 2016.
London4Europe is grateful for the support of the Ealing section of the European Movement UK for this event
12 April 2016
London4Europe members gathered for its monthly informal upstairs at the Round Table pub, 26 to 27 St Martins Court, WC2N 4AL (off St Martins Lane near Leicester Square). Usually taking place from 6pm on the first or second Tuesday of each month, the next gathering will take place on 10 May.
Winning the EU referendum
Thursday 3 September 2015
Europe House, Smith Square, London SW1
This seminar, the second in 2015 organised by London4Europe (L4E), the London section of the European Movement UK, attracted 110 participants to consider perspectives from European parliamentarians on the upcoming European Union (EU) referendum campaign. Ambassadors, L4E members, businesspeople, individuals from all parties and other opinion formers engaged in an interactive discussion with speakers Mary Honeyball (Labour MEP and L4E president); Charles Tannock (Conservative MEP, and Conservative foreign affairs spokesman in the European Parliament), and Anuja Prashar (former Liberal Democrat European Parliament candidate). The session was chaired by Nick Hopkinson, L4E chairman.
The Prime Minister’s priorities in his renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU are: changing the EU treaty’s wording on ever-closer union; protecting the City; a ‘red card’ for national parliaments on EU legislation; and reforming the entitlement of EU migrants to in-work and other social benefits. However, some issues cannot be imposed unilaterally. For example, Europe Minister David Lidington, MP has, for instance, indicated that the government did not want to upset France by pressing to close the European Parliament (EP)’s second seat in Strasbourg. Furthermore, demands to reform employment protection issues, such as the Working Time Directive, have been quietly dropped (which should enable trade unions to support the Yes, or remain, campaign).
Members of other parties are critical of the Prime Minister’s negotiations. The process should be transparent to the public at all times. Freedom of movement cannot be a point of contention. The current aggressive language from London does not go down well in EU capitals. Lastly, there is no guarantee there will be a deal at all.
The referendum franchise and the referendum question
The draft EU Referendum Bill being debated in Parliament excludes nationals of 24 of 28 EU member states resident in the UK and 16 and 17 years olds from voting in the referendum. Labour and Liberal Democrats are pressing for amendments allowing in particular votes for 16 and 17 year olds (as in the 2014 referendum in Scotland). Young people did turn out in considerable numbers to vote in the Scottish referendum because they and others were mobilised by how fundamental the question was. Schoolchildren are overwhelmingly pro-European. A strong campaign to encourage youth and those in the 18-25 age group to turn out to vote will be needed in the EU referendum. Pro-Europeans need to engage voters as successfully the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Under pressure from Eurosceptics, the proposed question in the EU Referendum Bill is likely to be reformulated. Some polls suggest the change in the question and answer from Yes to No and from Remain to Leave will result in the Remain option losing 5-10% of the vote. However, some dispute the change will cost votes – the rephrased question still offers a stark choice between the status quo and a leap of faith into the unknown. Voters soften their resistance to change when the downside is explained. Many Swiss do not advocate their model of EU relations as an example to be copied.
Arguments to remain
All UK MEPs believe reform within the EU is required. The Prime Minister’s renegotiation provides an opportunity to progress these concerns. However, accompanying reform of the EU is the need to counter myths and misinformation widely touted by much of the tabloid media and populist politicians.
For example, many have been taken in by the absurd proposition that the UK cannot trade with the rest of the world because our EU membership holds us back. On the contrary, it would be difficult for a UK outside the EU to negotiate numerous bilateral trade deals – the UK could not replicate all the current trading arrangements it enjoys as part of the EU by joining the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) or the European Economic Area (EEA) without paying a price in the form of lost markets. Furthermore, an UK outside the EU would not be part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which will create the world’s largest free trade area with the US.
Amongst the many benefits of our EU membership are the contribution of Horizon 2020 programme to medical and pharmaceutical research; the European Health Insurance Card which facilitates free health care for 2 million British expatriates plus millions of British tourists throughout Europe; the reduction of mobile phone roaming charges; and the Erasmus programme which has helped hundreds of thousands British students study in universities across Europe.
In addition to focusing on the benefits of being in EU, pro-Europeans need to expose the consequences of withdrawal, notably a projected considerable fall in standards of living and increase in inequality. Inequality is an important issue in some areas such as multicultural London. Pro-Europeans need to highlight that the UK as part of the EU is inter alia able to punch above its weight as part of the world’s largest trading bloc, combat climate change and cross-border crime.
There is no viable alternative to EU membership. No leader in the Commonwealth, US or Japan has suggested the UK leaves the EU nor that it would be beneficial. Commonwealth countries have re-orientated their trade towards faster growing economies, and have relatively little interest in the mature UK market which alone would constitute only 2 per cent of global GDP. That they would want to revert to the trading patterns of more than 50 years ago is extraordinary. If the UK left the EU, we would leave a grouping where the UK is increasingly winning the argument on economic reform, and where English is the main language across EU institutions.
Various UK foreign policy successes would not have been achieved other than through EU initiatives such as peace in Kosovo, biting sanctions against Russia, and anti-piracy initiatives in the Indian Ocean. Progress through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on these issues without EU engagement would not be possible. UK withdrawal from the EU could only be good news for one government (Putin’s).
Leaving the EU would not resolve the Calais migration crisis. Even if we accept Daniel Hannan’s unsubstantiated assertion that the UK would be more prosperous outside the EU, the UK would become an even greater magnet for economic migrants.
The remain and leave campaigns
There are serious divisions in the leave campaign, and who should lead it. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, wants the leave campaign to focus on immigration. However, the other group in the leave campaign views an excessive focus on immigration and Farage’s leadership would be overly divisive, and could reduce support to leave.
The Yes campaign is not without its difficulties either. Unlike in 1975, there will not be a core of high-profile politicians spearheading a cross-party campaign who previously worked together on the UK’s accession. Attempts to forge a cross-party group of UK MEPs in Brussels has been impeded by the Labour leadership election and by differences on membership amongst the Conservatives. In EP elections since 1999, neither Labour nor the Conservatives seriously addressed EU issues. In the last EP election, only UKIP and the Liberal Democrats focused on European issues. So there is little experience as to what pro-European messages may resonate with the public.
The existence of Conservative and Labour No campaigns are a considerable concern. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor understand the consequences of BREXIT for the economy, the UK’s unity and their political legacies. Both want the UK to remain in the EU. To support this, Damian Green MP, Charles Tannock MEP and Lord Inglewood are re-launching Conservative European Mainstream.
Labour is overwhelmingly committed to staying in EU. Alan Johnson MP will lead the majority Labour campaign to remain in, but Kate Hoey MP and Graham Stringer MP are forming a minority Labour No campaign. There was temporary uncertainty over the stance to be taken by Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, but since his election as leader he has confirmed he would campaign to stay in.
The SNP, Plaid Cymru and most Northern Irish parties will campaign to remain in although they have emphasised the implications of an overall leave vote for the future of the United Kingdom. The Conservatives in Scotland might cooperate more closely on a cross-party basis to minimise the risk of a break-up of the UK.
The core YES campaign to be designated by the Electoral Commission will be complemented by distinct party campaigns and a number of pro-European groupings including the European Movement. Labour and the Liberal Democrats believe they stand to benefit from building their own campaigns, working closely with the core campaign, but in so doing developing their own grass roots. In light of the diversity of organisations within the overall YES campaign, pro-Europeans need to offer a concerted campaign with a cogent, simple and coherent message.
The campaign and the key immigration issue
The upcoming referendum campaign will be very different from the 1975 campaign, when the then Common Market was seen as relatively benign. The malign influence of the media (notably the BBC’s excessive coverage of Nigel Farage and most of the tabloid media’s misleading coverage) has radically changed public perceptions.
Regional campaigning in the 1975 referendum campaign was effective. Given the prevalence of support for continued membership of the EU in Greater London, all parties, including Greater London Authority (GLA) candidates, should speak up in favour of Europe.
Arguments which work and identifying correct target groups need to be carefully researched. Pro-European literature needs to be more relevant and more in touch with public concerns. Co-operation between pro-European organisations can create synergies with the production of leaflets, recruiting speakers and coordinating events.
In the light of the migration crisis, polls show support for remaining in the EU has fallen from about 60% to 46%, even though the correlation of the two issues is debatable. The UK Government’s £800 million aid to refugees from the Syrian war in regional camps can help. The public need to differentiate between migrants, temporary visitors and refugees; emphasise the UK border agency can still control non-EU economic immigration (as the UK adheres to few of the Schengen arrangements); emphasise the contribution of EU economic migrants to the UK’s economic growth, and argue the UK’s ageing population needs migration, not least to help pay our pensions and provide staff for the NHS. These arguments are underpinned by a 2012 UK Commission for Employment and Skills study which found that 12.5 million will leave the workforce between 2012-2022 whilst far fewer will enter it. This trend could have important implications for the UK’s future economic performance.
Most political parties have taken a populist approach to immigration, and contributed to the growing perception that immigrants are taking jobs, school places and hospital beds in times of austerity. Critics counter the government should demonstrate international leadership in the immigration crisis. Short-sighted policies, compounded by poor media coverage, are seriously harming the prospects for the Yes campaign.
To win the referendum, politicians need to be open and honest about Europe, particularly about the key migration issue. Pro-Europeans should not be afraid to point out that immigration is not the main source of inadequate domestic social and health provision. Critics note the UK’s global reputation is being destroyed, and making the UK increasingly appear as a closed, insensitive and bigoted country. The UK is at risk of losing global influence and markets as a result.
Political leadership advocating the UK’s EU membership has been largely absent for most of the UK’s 42 years of EU membership. If there is one silver lining, it is that voters in referenda tend to opt for the status quo. The leave campaign needs clearly to outline what out looks like and what it means for the security and prosperity of UK citizens. Politicians advocating our continued membership need to inspire through emotional appeals to British values, national unity and the national interest, and not rely solely on a stream of statistics and fear.
Richard Wassell and Nick Hopkinson
This report reflects the personal interpretation of the rapporteurs of the proceedings, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the speakers, participants nor of London4Europe.
Tuesday 21 April 2015
Europe House, Smith Square, London SW1
London4Europe, the London section of the European Movement UK, convened a hustings at Europe House on 21 April 2015 with candidates from the five main parties in the Greater London area to outline their parties’ respective policies on the European Union (EU) and their views on a possible EU referendum.
The candidates addressing the 100 participants comprising members, businesspeople, diplomats, journalists and other opinion formers were Mike Gapes (Labour), the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve (Conservative), Anuja Prashar (Liberal Democrat), Hugh Small (Green) and Robert Stephenson (UKIP). Introductory remarks were made by Jacqueline Minor (Head, European Commission Representation to the UK) and Laura Sandys (Chairman, European Movement UK). The session was chaired by Nick Hopkinson, chairman, London4Europe.
After introductory statements by the candidates, a lively and interactive discussion period followed with questions and comments including: why does the UK want to leave the UK at a time when it is winning many debates in the EU? What should and can the UK re-negotiate with its EU partners? What does better regulation entail? What are the practical implications and cost of disentanglement? How would the UK economy fare after withdrawal (e.g. higher education is likely to be harmed)? Would speakers support a vote to leave the EU if they were members of the government? As Europe is never mentioned on the doorstep (not even in South Thanet or Thurrock) – is the Europe issue that important? How can the public be better informed about the EU? Can we persuade people about the benefits of EU membership without a referendum? What is the scope for closer coordination of defence and aid policies within EU? What are the prospects for concluding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?
The following is a summary of the candidates’ opening statements and answers to questions and comments raised:
Mike Gapes (Labour), noted he is more positive about Europe than the Labour Party manifesto. Nevertheless the manifesto underlines that Labour clearly believes our future is in Europe – this goes hand in hand with a confident, outward-looking Britain. A Labour government will focus on generating jobs and growth. Governments and officials can reform the EU daily by being an EU member participating in EU decision-making. Reform of the single market can be achieved, notably in the digital economy and services. Much reform can be achieved through domestic legislation, e.g. reducing paying benefits to people not resident in UK, and institutional reform (e.g. scrapping the European Parliament’s second seat in Strasbourg). A select committee specifically for Europe and a Minister for Europe within the Cabinet could raise the profile and importance of EU issues within Government.
He pointed to warnings against leaving the European Union (BREXIT) from leading businesses such as Phillips and leading business figures such as Richard Branson. An April 21 poll found 70% support for EU membership in the City of London. BREXIT implied massive risks to economic growth, notably inwards investment. The media is obsessed with the Europe issue. In a referendum you ask a question, and voters answer a different question. Referenda resolve nothing, e.g. the 2014 Scottish referendum has raised the prospect of a ‘neverendum’ on independence.
More dialogue was needed with non EU members such as Switzerland and Norway to understand why they believe their arrangements with the EU are sub-optimal. TTIP has the potential to provide unified standards and overcome the need for dual testing, for example of pharmaceutical products, on both sides of the Atlantic. The European Parliament is nevertheless concerned about the impact of US court decisions on EU markets.
Dominic Grieve (Conservative) argued that if the Conservatives are re-elected, they could build on the recovery and progress over last five years. The UK has created more jobs in the past year than the 27 other EU member states combined. Reducing the UK national debt would release considerable funding and increase investment (in contrast to the SNP over-spending). London is a global city and motor for the entire UK economy. He agrees with Mike Gapes that the EU is crucial to the UK’s future in spite of the behaviour of the last EU Commission. The new Commission may however adopt more growth friendly economic policies.
The Conservative manifesto argues for reform of the EU, not withdrawal; reform, not UK exceptionalism. He is not campaigning to leave EU unless there is a sharp change of circumstances, and would leave government if the UK came out of the EU. Assurance must be forthcoming that we shall not be disadvantaged by staying outside the Eurozone. There must be a new agreement on freedom of movement. Subsidiarity needs to be better respected within the EU. Not everything with the EU can be disentangled. The European Court of Justice has to be rigid to ‘control’ 28 national legal systems. Their underlying principle is always ever closer union. Some of their judgements fly in the face of common sense. Stronger defence cooperation is needed, but not a single defence policy. An EU referendum cannot be avoided, and it will be disruptive. An EU Referendum would be a risk – but the UK is a democracy.
Anuja Prashar (Liberal Democrat) noted both Conservative and Labour leaders have failed to reflect the positive commitment shown by their representatives on the panel. Liberal Democrats want reform of the EU, but not through petulant negotiation. Key objectives which can be achieved by working through EU institutions and with other EU member states include holding transnational corporations to account, tackling tax avoidance, curbing crime networks, promoting climate change, and conflict resolution.
The Association of South Eastern Nations (ASEAN), which builds upon the EU model, is growing fast and is forecast to be larger than the EU economy in 15 years. The EU remains the world’s largest import and export bloc. A UK outside the EU would have less weight in international trade negotiations. By upholding EU-wide standards of human rights, a UK within the EU can better integrate diverse groups at home and promote human rights across Europe. The EU also offers better protection for both consumers and employees.
There has been a lack of political leadership on Europe. The Europe debate has become a cover for the immigration issue. Both Cameron and Miliband have lately spoken of immigration in a destabilising way. The UK public need to be properly informed before they can decide in any referendum. If Liberal Democrats were part of any future coalition government, they would leave it if the UK were to exit.
Hugh Small (Green) noted the Greens believe an EU referendum is essential. However, they believe the UK should stay in EU, and would leave any coalition government in the event of a BREXIT. The EU acts as a counterweight to the Westminster government which is heavily centralised and has resulted in the House of Lords and local authorities losing power. For example, EU input can help minimise transport gridlock in London. Devolved government works better as there are in-built checks and balances. However, Greens do not support the euro, political union or a European army. Governments have forgotten how to deliver effective industry-specific regulation. Worldwide regulation of financial services and of energy would benefit all. The EU success in telephony should be duplicated in energy. TTIP proposals allowing corporations to take sovereign governments to court are supported by the Conservatives (and possibly also Labour), but the Greens oppose the secrecy of TTIP processes. Green MEPs already stopped the counterfeiting treaty and plan to undertake similar measures to stop TTIP as currently proposed.
Robert Stephenson (UKIP) noted he was not anti-European but he was opposed to EU political integration. Withdrawal from the EU might not be as earth-shattering as some suppose. The UK has lost self-government in too many areas such as trade, fishing, and immigration. The fishing industry has been decimated. The EU will introduce tax harmonisation in a few years, meaning the UK will no longer be able to set our own taxes. Free trade with the EU is its main benefit, but moves towards a United States of Europe are not. Nevertheless trade agreements could be achieved more effectively without EU membership. He expressed frustration that as the world’s fifth largest economy and seventh largest manufacturer, the UK cannot negotiate its own trade deals with the rest of world.
Any renegotiation of the terms of the UK’s EU membership is pointless – the referendum to leave the EU should just be held. The net £8 billion per annum membership fee is not worthwhile. There should be strict spending limits on both sides in any EU referendum campaign. After a no vote in the EU referendum, the UK should either repeal the European Communities Act 1972 or preferably invoke article 50 to leave the EU. The UK would then be free to negotiate free trade deals like Canada, Israel, Mexico and Iceland. Freedom of movement within the EU was not designed for mass transfers of population from poor to richer member states. Peace has been guaranteed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), not the EU.
Richard Wassell and Nick Hopkinson