You may have noticed there's a referendum on the way to decide whether we stay in the EU or not. It is the latter's position (to leave) that has coined the over-arcing phrase which we know to be the portmanteau, Brexit.
With a huge surge in enquiries for speakers on this topic - from panel debates to informal dinner discussions - it is clear that Brexit (or ‘Bremain’) is a key trend within events right now. Since Speakers Corner represents individuals from across the political spectrum, we are, as a company, placed very firmly on the fence. We thought we would, however, try to wade through all the information at hand to focus on the key areas of democracy and the economy, with input from some of our Brexit expert speakers.
If you are looking for a Brexit speaker for your event, simply type Brexit into our search bar or click here
The referendum: what's been happening so far?
In February 2016, David Cameron went to Brussels to negotiate and secure ‘special status’ for Britain, allowing him to return with a set of measures and, perhaps, a convincing argument for remaining in Europe.
In a nutshell, these were:
- Britain will not commit to further political integration into the European Union.
- Access to work-based benefits for immigrants (tax credits) should be limited.
- Britain should not be required to bail out EU members (and Europe should formally recognise that Europe has more than one currency, other than the Euro, i.e. sterling).
- Remove bureaucratic red tape by increasing cross-border competitiveness.
This agreement between the UK PM and Europe was hammered out over two frenetic sleepless days and nights of discussion. Not so fresh off the flight, David Cameron’s announcement in February heralded the official start of the two campaigns which fall into the two distinct categories of Leave and Remain.
"It comes down to what individuals want to believe" - Anthony Hilton
It is worth pointing out that there is not one official group on either side, but rather many groups, all jostling for the chance to have their voice heard.
Talking to us recently, speaker and facilitator Anthony Hilton points out, "Arguing for or against the EU is like arguing about the existence of God. There are no killer facts; it comes down what individuals want to believe."
Michael Gove and Boris Johnson believe that EU membership is incompatible with British sovereignty.
Michael Gove, writing in The Spectator, goes on to say being part of the EU “prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out”.
With the feeling from Leave campaigners that Britain is losing power to Brussels and that Britain’s sovereignty (the power to self-govern) is being eroded, the argument then is to, well, leave and ‘Take Back Control’.
As Michael Portillo points out in the FT ‘’Since before Britain entered the common market, and ever since, distinguished opponents of our membership have cited the loss of both sovereignty and democratic control as insuperable problems.’’
Remain commentators argue, however, that Gove, Johnson et al are somewhat overly idealistic when it comes to sovereignty, with The Economist arguing that “real sovereignty is relative”.
An article in the Spectator states ‘Sovereignty is not absolute, inside the Union or outside it’’ and goes on to examine the implications of an exit on our rights and freedoms.
Having a say, Daniel Finkelstein
On the balance of power debate writer and speaker, Daniel Finklestein, told Speakers Corner: “Yes, inside the EU we let other countries have a say in what we do. But in return, we get a say in what other countries do. And, increasingly, what other countries do affects us."
Over in the Leave camp, we turn to their most ‘famous’ advocate Boris Johnson who argues that “We have become so used to Nanny in Brussels that we have become infantilised, incapable of imagining an independent future”. He goes on to say “If the ‘Leave’ side wins, it will indeed be necessary to negotiate a large number of trade deals at great speed. But why should that be impossible?”
Another Leave supporter and speaker, Lord Digby Jones, follows up from Johnson’s argument by saying “Britain will secure a free-trade agreement with the EU immediately following Brexit ensuring no disruption to trade. (Sunday Politics, 31st January 2016)
In fact, the Guardian reported in March that 250 business leaders had added their support to the Leave campaign. There is a belief that the EU favours large multinational businesses and not SMEs.
Writing in the Telegraph, speaker Roger Bootle said that "It is perfectly possible to imagine a prosperous future for the UK outside the EU, even if no special trade deal were done. As it happens, because trade between the UK and EU is so important – for both sides – there is highly likely to be a deal which gives the UK special access to EU markets.’’
Roger Bootle 'special access to EU markets.'
The current agreement with the EU allows for UK businesses to trade freely with no tariffs or barriers. According to the Stronger-In site, the EU is our biggest trading partner, with nearly all of trade being with it (49%, Office for National Statistics).
One such Remain supporter is economic journalist and speaker Oliver Kamm. We caught up with him recently to ask him about the approaching referendum.
“I support Remain. Britain's fortunes as an open trading economy are bound up with those of our EU partners. For all its idiosyncrasies and occasional regulatory zeal, the EU provides access to a single market of 500 million consumers. Brexit would, over time, deter investment in Britain and stem the flow of skilled and highly educated labour on which growth sectors depend.”
Sir Stuart Rose points out the uncertainty for Britain should we ‘Brexit’. Speaking on Radio 4, he said ‘’I'm a bit of a Eurosceptic myself, I understand the imperfections of Europe – I've traded in Europe as a businessman over 30/40 years. There are imperfections but, by and large, [the EU] serves us well. What we don't know is, what are we exchanging it for? The reality that we have got today against the risk of what we might not have tomorrow.".
Remain supporter, Oliver Kamm
The Leave campaign have four ‘facts’ under the security section of their site. Two of the ‘facts’ are quotes from the likes of former heads of M16 and Interpol, who believe that leaving, and breaking free of EU rules, will lead to ‘important security gains’. With a feeling that ‘We have lost control of our borders’ we return to Gove, who says ‘We are powerless to stop terror suspects coming to the UK because of EU rules’. The Leave campaign object to the free movement of people, a central tenet of the EU, and argue that the UK has lost nearly all control of the UK borders that EU law forbids countries in the Schengen area from carrying out systematic checks on anyone with an EU passport from entering”. They also believe our membership to NATO and The UN Security Council are more important to Britain’s defence.
Britain at the NATO table
The Remain campaign, however, say that the above claims are scare mongering with another former security official, M15 chief Jonathan Evans saying that EU membership ‘underpins the stability of Europe’, adding that terror threats of recent years have had nothing whatsoever to do with EU policy. The Remain campaign see strength in unity and argue because of the very nature of cross-border threats we need cross-border collaboration to tackle these issues properly. They site sanctions against countries and the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as prime examples where this collaboration works best.
The above shows that, in just these two areas of discussion, opinions are very polarised; in fact, they are so firmly north vs. south, one wonders if either group will be able to migrate back to the warmer climes of the equator. Time will tell.
At the moment, though, while commentators and general public engage in ideological civil war, this active period of discussion is not being matched by business. There is a sense of anxious stasis where no one wants to make any decisions going forward. It feels like the end of June and beyond has the characteristics of a monster black hole: one can theorise, measure the velocity of objects moving toward it, but, past that, there is no light to illuminate. Businesses, then, are cautious while subscribing to the wait-and-see policy.
This view is also apparent in our industry, with the events magazine, Conference & Incentive Travel (C&IT), reporting on this very issue in its recent March edition. Simon Hughes, from the Business Visits & Events Partnership, says ‘We just have no idea what will happen afterwards, and the pro-Brexit campaigners haven’t been clear enough about the outcome’. A recent flash twitter poll showed that some 73% of industry planners are not in favour of the 'Brexit'.
So are you any clearer? Do you know how you will be voting, or are you undecided? We hope, however, that this piece has helped in some way.
We end on a quote: not from a politician, economist or business leader, but from poet, Robert Frost who had this, rather aptly, to say on decision making and taking action:
"Thinking is not to agree or disagree. That's voting."
Speakers Corner offer a range of Brexit Speakers, who can give for, against, and neutral points of view. To find our Brexit Speakers, please type Brexit into the search bar or click here.