EU referendum – making an informed choice

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

That is the question we will be asked to answer on June 23 in the first UK-wide referendum since 1975 when Europe was also the topic. The question posed then was: ‘Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Community (Common Market)?’

This time around London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has adopted a neutral stance on EU membership and is focussing on providing information and facts on relevant topics from both sides of the argument, as well as carrying out periodic polls, to assist members and London businesses to make an informed choice. Forty-one years ago the Chamber made strong arguments for continued membership of the Common Market, the country’s entry into which it had also supported two years earlier.

Debate

As part of the current mission to inform process, LCCI organised a debate in the Turing Lecture Theatre in Savoy Place last month where Gabe Winn, senior business advisor at Britain Stronger in Europe, and Will Tyler, chief executive of Octink made the case for remaining in the EU, while Richard Patient, chairman of Business for Britain and Fintan O’Toole, director of The HR Dept, argued for leaving. The event was chaired by Russell Lynch, deputy City editor of the Evening Standard. Tyler and O’Toole run companies which are members of LCCI and their presentations are summarised below.

A poll of the audience taken by Lynch before and after the presentations showed marginal shifts in voting intentions with up to 70 per cent of attendees favouring remaining in the EU. The latest LCCI poll carried out in March recorded 66 per cent in favour of remaining, 29 per cent for leaving with five per cent ‘don’t knows’.

The case for remaining – Will Tyler

“My business has felt the cold winds of uncertainty over the last two months with projects being mothballed until after the referendum. If this is the effect of a possible exit, how much more uncertain will be this economic scenario?

UK: We have voted to leave and therefore we are not looking to contribute further.
Europe: OK. Are you aware that all the current trade deals will now be void and you will have to pay EU import duty?
UK: Yes, but we are the 5th largest economy and we want a better deal than we had before.

As a businessman, I believe that this outcome is as fantastical as the contents of a Marvel comic.

I don’t buy the argument either that we can emulate Norway and Switzerland and do as well as them outside the EU. There are many factors that make them unique – their wealth for instance – and both make contributions that are not far short of our own, without many of the benefits.

I am persuaded by the argument of Angel Gurria of the OECD who has commented: ‘While no one knows precisely what the costs [of the UK leaving] would be, what is striking about our estimates and those produced by others is that all the numbers in the Brexit case are negative. The best outcome under Brexit is still worse than remaining an EU member, while the worst outcomes are very bad indeed.’

Personally, I find dealing with Europe saves time and therefore money for my business as my goods effectively have a free passport around Europe. Dealing that with other parts of the world can often be a bureaucratic nightmare.

Leaving the EU is a risk that we should not take. Never has there been a time when geopolitical risks have culminated from so many diverse sources. This is a time for a strong position in Europe and we need to look to our elected representatives to make this a reality. If we really don’t think we have a good enough deal in Europe we need to look at who we are sending in to negotiate the deal rather than throwing the whole relationship out the window on a whim.”

The case for leaving – Fintan O’Toole

“We are being told by the Remain campaign that leaving will lead to uncertainty. However bad Europe is, they argue, we will be worse off if we leave.

In 2014 Prime Minister David Cameron in the Conservative Party European Manifesto said that Europe was in need of change. It was, he asserted, too undemocratic and too bureaucratic. It interfered too much in our daily lives and the scale of EU migration, triggered by new members acceding to the union, had had a huge impact on local communities. The need for real change, he believed, was urgent.

The Prime Minister explained that he would negotiate for more powers to be given back to Britain, a better deal for taxpayers, continued control of our borders and a crackdown on benefit tourism. We needed more control of justice and home affairs, more trade and economic independence. I do not disagree with any of that but I do believe he achieved any real change in his negotiations, try his best as he did.

I have no idea what the future will look like but I believe we will be able to build a new and better future outside Europe. I cannot see the future and, like an economist, I can only see the road ahead through a rear view mirror.

Europe is not and has not been a success. Yes, there has been peace between nations but we have also failed to respond adequately as Europe to the problems in Bosnia, Ukraine, Crimea, Libya, Iraq and Syria. Yes, there has been an economic community but it failed to prevent the biggest recession since the thirties and the UK has suffered from a collapse of the fishing industry, and the affects of wine lakes and butter mountains. Furthermore EU laws have prevented governments in the UK from stepping in to prop up or manage the decline of strategic industries such as steel.

None of us can know what a future outside the EU would hold. I would welcome being part of a new community – the only way we will achieve this is from the outside as internally the EU has neither the appetite or the ability to reform itself from within. ”

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