George Hollingbery MP organised two public ‘Question Time’ meetings with a panel of experts, the second of which took place in Horndean on Friday 18th March. George (who is yet to declare his position on Europe) chaired the panel which was made up of:
Richard Ashworth MEP who has in the past called for cuts in EU spending and greater scrutiny for the European Parliament,
Martin Howe QC an expert in European Law particularly intellectual property and the movement of free goods and services between member states,
His Excellency Witold Sobków, Polish Ambassador who has been in the post since 2012 and was previously the Deputy Head of the European Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
Pawel Swidlicki who joined Open Europe in 2011 and is an expert on the EU budget, regional policy and the role of national parliaments in EU decision making.
There were four main questions from the 450 capacity audience at Barton hall, Horndean Technology College during the evening with some additional spot questions about specific topics.
Question 1 – “What are the financial costs and benefits of remaining in the EU?”
Pawel Swidlicki: The EU budget Net contribution is about £8Bn per year. In return for this we get free trade in the EU. We all sell with the same rules and have access to cheap goods from the EU. Europe accounts for about 45% of our exports. If we left we could arrange our own trade agreements like Switzerland – but they do not for example have access to the financial services market which is a key export for us.
Richard Ashworth: The Gross cost to the UK is £18.77Bn of which we get £4.756Bn back in agricultural support and regional aid. We also get a British Rebate of £4.416Bn Deducting international aid and student support funds which we would be paying anyway our true net contribution is about £6Bn. Our UK expenditure on health is £140Bn a year and Social protection is about £22Bn a year. It is a relatively small amount. In 1973 we voted to join the EU. At that time our economy was a basket case. We replaced 28 sets of rule books with just one. We are now the 5th largest economy on earth. What would the relationship be like if we left? Norway have a relationship and access to the full European Single Market where they still have to abide by 75% of the regulations and pay a large fee too.
Martin Howe: The Single Market is not putting up barriers to trade. This is generally beneficial with no internal tariffs. The EU has one set of external tariffs or Customs charges for export outside of the EU. This drives up prices in some member states. If we left we could set the level of our own external tariffs to suit our best industries and exports. This isn’t just about trading, it is about common rules, common standards across states to allow free flow. Is this economically beneficial? The cost to comply is high. All trade outside the EU is subject to the same rules which are imposed by majority voting whether we support them or not.
Question 2 – “With the background of the EU inability to protect its borders against unacceptable migration has the Prime Minister’s deal done anything to protect us?”
Pawel Swidlicki: The EU is struggling to form a coherent response to the crisis whether the Syria issues or economic migration. Because we are not in the Schengen region we are well insulated. If we stay or leave we are still in control of our own borders. We have secured a 7 year period where migrants to the UK from other EU countries are restricted access to benefits and must put in before they can take out. This is a big disincentive to come here now.
Martin Howe: The agreement does not bind the European Parliament or the European Court of Justice. It doesn’t affect the underlying rule that citizens of the EU can move and work in the UK. There is no change to the European Charter of Human Rights which we are bound by which especially affects us on Asylum Cases. The Eurozone may have different interests in regulating areas – for example a market we are very strong on such as finance.
His Excellency Witold Sobków: The negotiations were difficult. Poland wanted to help and support the changes although it is not in our interests.
Poles in the UK come here to work hard. The benefit cuts will affect Polish families but there are only 22,000 children here out of a million poles who work and pay taxes. Poles contribute more to the UK economy than they take out.
Question by George to His Excellency Witold Sobków:
“Might there be a time in the next 10 to 20 years where there is net migration to Poland?”
That is a difficult question!
British people who want to move from England to live and work in Poland will always be welcome
Question by George to Richard Ashworth MEP:
“Free movement as a general concept – how will this be affected if we leave?”
We currently have 5% unemployment which is about as low as it gets. If we want to grow our economy we need to allow working people into the country. Also, there are as many people here form Europe as there are people from the UK living in Europe. Generally people here in the UK are working whereas there are a large number of Britons who are retired overseas and may be seen as a burden there!
Question 3 – “If the UK votes to leave Europe how long would it take to exit, how will we do it and what will it cost?”
Martin Howe: Any member state may decide to leave and then that State gives notice to the European Council. There is then a 2 year period to allow practicable arrangements to take place and set in place the future arrangements. Once the two year period expires the country will leave the EU even if arrangements are not in place unless there is agreement from other member states for this to be extended. If there is a vote to leave then we need to negotiate the best deal which would affect the date we give notice, but the Government will probably want to conclude it in this parliament. The EU to UK trade is 1.5 times the UK to EU trade so the EU would almost certainly have a trade agreement in place as this is in their best interests!
Richard Ashworth: There are four key issues. 1) There is a strong will among all of the EU countries for us to stay in. 2) The North Sea economy has strong trading partnerships. If the UK was not there the centre of gravity would change to the Mediterranean. 3) Britain is wanted as there is a strong suspicion Hollande and Merkel would be soft on Putin and 4) The Germans want us to help them manage the French and the French want us there to help manage the Germans! While we have a trade deficit with the EU, our trade with every EU country except France and Germany is about in balance.
Question by George to His Excellency Witold Sobków:
“How would a UK exit be viewed in Poland?”
It would be a disaster for Poland. The balance of philosophies (especially Economic) would be catastrophic. The UK is Poland’s closest partner. Britain provides extra security in the EU – over and above NATO, Climate Change, Drugs and Arms smuggling, Europol and more. We can do a lot together.
Question by George to Pawel Swidlicki:
“How long will it take for the UK to reach a steady state after BREXIT?”
We currently have unprecedented market access which would be a big compromise and take some time to settle.
The sovereignty gains would be very quick. It is difficult to weigh up the loss of market access. The degree to which we are able to rebalance is linked with the complexity of our exit terms.
Richard Ashworth: We are in NATO, WHO, EU, Climate Change and several other organisations. All of these mean compromise and a loss of Sovereignty. There is one country that has 100% Sovereignty – North Korea!
Question 4 – “There are lots of arguments to remain or leave. What are the most important for and against?”
Richard Ashworth: We are venturing into the unknown. This vote on the 23rd June is not about short term issues. It is a once in a generation thing. We are in a world of violence, warfare, Arab Springs and Russian Policies that are a concern. We must stay in as the world is a dangerous place. A shift in economic power from West to East is a threat. History has taught us that Isolation is not good.
Pawel Swidlicki: The risk on staying in is that Cameron’s negotiation is as good as it gets. The risk on leaving is a highly disruptive process with large front costs and a relationship which is the same or worse AND to trade we still need to follow EU regulations. Our special relationship with the USA is not so special.
Martin Howe: The problem with staying in is that our laws are not in our control and this won’t get any better. More and more of our decisions will be taken away and decided by the EU. The EU penetrates into our own legal system and overrides our own courts. Singapore is a small island with no natural resources. It has the highest per capita income of all the countries in the region. They very controversially withdrew from Malaysia. I see no reason why we can’t better our prosperity too.
The risk of leaving? It could be very very bumpy.
Final Question – In a word, if the UK leaves the EU will Scotland leave the UK?
Richard Ashworth: Yes
Martin Howe: Don’t Know
Pawel Swidlicki: If the UK leaves there will be a period of significant turbulence and too much to do at the same time. The collapse in Oil prices makes Scottish Independence less attractive but it will eventually lead to the breakup of the UK
George Hollingbery: If we do have a UK out vote we might see a short window of opportunity for Scotland to stay in the EU.
Photographs Peter Facey, and Google