By Luke Overton, 2nd year student of Politics and International Relations
Two people, a bell and some fiery attacks. At first glance this may appear to be an article about a boxing match but in actual fact this article is about Canterbury Christchurch’s Brexit debate. Like in a boxing match both sides of the debate focussed on their perceived strengths; economics and trade. Neither side extensively spoke about the controversial issue of immigration. Representing Leave.eu Marc Glendening from Policy Exchange think tank, and speaking in support of Britain stronger in Europe was James Flanagan, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesman for Canterbury and Whitstable. Local MP Julian Brazier also intervened in favour of the leave campaign.
Opening off the debate was Marc Glendening, sticking to a strict 10 minute opening statement (or risk being belled off), Glendening outlined his main arguments. His main arguments for leaving the EU were that the EU is a declining economic and political block that is undemocratic. Glendening made some strong points: he pointed out that the EU accounts for much less of the global trade than it did back in 1973 and that Britain should get out of the declining block now, citing the ‘Eurocrisis’ as evidence. Interestingly, Glendening also pointed out the damage the EU does to developing countries, the EU spends vast amounts of money on agricultural subsidies, these subsidies give EU farmers a substantial advantage over farmers in developing countries, especially when farmers from developing countries have to pay high tariff costs to export into the EU. This point was Glendening’s strongest point in his opening debate.
Flanagan speaking in favour of Britain remaining in the EU set out to highlight what Britain has gained from the EU. He pointed out that the EU is still the largest single market in the world and all the legislation the EU has passed that benefits UK citizens every day, such as employment laws. From an economic perspective Flanagan pointed out that 80% of FTSE 100 has said they are in favour of Britain remaining in the EU, a strong point from Flanagan; however he could have gone further. Many business have said jobs could be lost if Britain did in fact leave the EU, mentioning this argument would have strengthened his argument.
After the opening statements the debate was opened up to the audience. The first question focused on the democratic deficit within the EU, Glendening did rather poorly with this. He proceeded to tell the audience member that even ‘they cannot really believe the EU is democratic’. This came across rather patronising and as such made his argument appear weak. Flanagan asserted that the UK government comparably has more power than the Commission. A fair point, however it did not answer the question.
The following question was about TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). TTIP is a difficult subject because the negotiations have not yet been concluded so it is difficult to see what the end negotiations of the TTIP will look like. Flanagan highlighted that any trade deal done with the US through the EU will also have to be ratified by the UK parliament. Glendening took the opposite view and argued that if the EU makes a deal with the US it would be forced upon the UK. Applying his argument further, Glendening believed that the UK would find it easier to oppose TTIP (if necessary) from outside the EU. However once again this question focused on hypotheticals as no one is sure what the TTIP negotiations will look like until they are finished.
At this point Julian Brazier Conservative MP for Canterbury and Whitstable was introduced onto the stage. Brazier took Glendening’s arguments that step further, especially in regards to the Eurozone. He argued that the introduction of the Euro was politically motivated rather than economically motivated and used the current crises in Greece and Spain to reiterate his point. He described the EU as ‘failing’ these countries. There is a strong case to argue that the introduction of the Euro was in fact politically motivated, however as Flanagan pointed out the crises in Spain and Greece were not necessarily just down to the Euro but also down to the global world economic crisis.
The most controversial statement from Julian Brazier was that the EU did not create peace in Europe, rather he felt NATO and in particular the US were responsible for peace post 1945. This caused controversy as one audience member accused Brazier of trying to ‘rewrite the history books’. This was an interesting question and perhaps would be a good question for a future debate. Brazier used the example of the political turmoil in the Balkans and how NATO intervened to help create peace. However peace does not necessarily mean stability, NATO may have the ability to use ‘hard power’ to stop wars, but the EU has the soft power ability to bring war-torn countries within its borders, which creates stability. Croatia is a good example of this.
Overall the debate was a huge success. Even though neither side delivered a ‘knockout blow’ they certainly did inform and engage the audience. As a student of Politics there were certain arguments that were unexpected, such as the Common Agricultural Policy’s tendency to disadvantage developing countries which was particularly thought provoking to my pro-European views. However my view remains the same; Britain should try to solve problems with the EU from within rather than abandon the European project.