This evening I chaired a debate, organised by the Centre for Opposition Studies, on Westminster v Brussels? British opposition to the EU, with Graham Brady MP arguing the case for British exit from the EU and Sir Vince Cable arguing the case for the UK to remain a member of the EU.
As I explained in opening, I was chairing because I am on the Centre’s advisory committee and because I am neutral in terms of the present debate. I drew attention to a recent analysis which suggested that each side in the debate was appealing to its core vote and not really making a case that appealed to those who were undecided. I invited both speakers to make a positive case.
Graham Brady argued that there was no status quo option and that the EU was essentially an inward-looking institution, with fiscal integration being core to its future, even if that was not something desired by all member states. He argued exit would offer an opportunity to reinvigorate our democracy. Vince Cable challenged the argument that we could negotiate favourable trade terms with other member states. Even if we negotiated good terms with Germany, France and others may take a very different view. He made the case for access to the EU as a single unit. Industries had set up in the UK because of the access to that market.
At the end, Graham Brady asked me if I was still neutral. I had to say that I was. Some people haven’t made up their minds because they haven’t listened to the arguments. My problem is that when I hear one of the arguments advanced by one side, I can put the counter-argument of the other. The problem at the moment is that each side tends too often to speak in headline or sound bite terms, often adopting a lemon meringue approach: looks good on the outside, but when you bite it there is not much there.