This blog reflects on attendance at a recent event organised by ESRC, Cardiff University and the EU Hub to provided informed answers to questions about the upcoming EU Referendum. The speakers included economists, lawyers, and political scientists, including the head of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative Professor Anand Menon, economist Professor Angus Armstrong, regional policy expert Professor Fiona Wishlade and commercial law specialist Emyr Lewis and Cardiff School of Law and Politics’ Dr Jo Hunt.
By Philip Kitchen who attended the event
I have been disappointed in the so-called debate about the EU referendum so far. What I have seen amounts to little more than glorified name-calling and fear-mongering. Is it possible to hear something of substance about the choice we are being asked to make? This event set out to provide ‘informed’ answers to questions that the audience posed. The panel of invited experts were largely academics with specialist interest in areas relevant to the upcoming referendum. The driving force behind the session was UK in a Changing Europe who with Full Fact produce an informative booklet Leave/Remain: the facts behind the claims.
Chaired by Owain Phillips, a political reporter from ITV Cymru Wales, the questions covered different aspects of the EU. Particular things that struck me from the discussion included the way in which the principle behind the ‘single market’ is not something we currently have access to – it is something we participate in. There is a distinction which is important.
When it comes to legislation, the approach taken by the EU is to ensure that we treat members of the EC no differently to the way we treat our own nationals when they are in the UK. On this point the question of benefits that immigrants claim is seen to be a product of our non-contributory system. We treat visitors the way in which we treat ourselves by sharing the non-contributory system. It is in essence a result of the UK legislation more than EU legislation. This aspect is clearly now coming under review by all EU governments as benefit systems are subject to stresses that were never anticipated when first set up. It was pointed out to that there are different ways such support is termed and used within EU member countries which does not help the comparisons that are made.
Wales we learnt is a net beneficiary from EU finance. Questions surrounding devolution have not been well considered and present significant issues should we elect to leave the EU. What border controls will be put in place in Ireland between the north and south? If Scotland goes for independence would we see border controls put in place on the UK mainland? What happens to devolved powers if we leave and EU inspired legislation is revisited and Wales takes a different view to the UK government. Remember devolution happened after we joined the EU. Much UK legislation is mixed in terms of EU inspiration and UK sourced and will present much room for debate and discussion in the future should we leave the EU.
Sovereignty was described as a rather ‘plastic’ issue by one speaker. Another suggested that we might reasonably focus on issues of power and influence. Especially whether we are best served in that regard from being in or out of the EU.
In all it seemed clear that the ‘experts’ usual answer to ‘what happens if we come out of the EU to ….?’ was ‘We do not really know’. It certainly seemed clear that the people who will benefit most from leaving the EU will be lawyers of various types.
I went in to the meeting believing that we should remain in the EU. I heard no compelling argument to change that viewpoint. I did hear a number of questions asked that suggested if we stay in there are many reasons to keep questioning and challenging the ideas that politicians keep throwing around. One panellist said that in his experience students in the UK had a very low level of knowledge about the EU and how it worked – I would have to put myself in that same camp. The nature of the ‘arguments’ in the public sphere that I have heard from politicians from all camps suggest that many of them should attend question and answer sessions like this one.
Reference was made to Norway who have to endure the ‘EU regulation’ and its costs but with no influence within the the EU. Yet apparently some 75% or so vote not to join the EU. Maybe we should all ignore the facts and go with a gut feeling!
The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the WCIA.