“Competing Visions” was the final formal event that EU Debate NI plan to hold. Hosted with NI Environment Link, the concept was to invite representatives from the two referendum campaigns to pitch their vision for what the UK would look like on the 24 June and beyond if it remains in the EU or leaves the EU.
EU Debate NI recently launched a Referendum Toolkit to help individuals or groups begin to grapple with some of the issues behind the in/out decision.
Owen Paterson (Out) and Claire Hanna (In) open proceedings in QUB’s Riddel Hall before comments and questions from the audience, and finally six minute pitches from Lee Reynolds (chair of NI Vote Leave) and Glyn Roberts (vice chair of NI Stronger IN).
Lucid Talk’s Bill White gave an overview of his latest May tracker poll, splitting the results by traditional (traditional) voting habits (unionist, nationalist, other) and gender and showing some of the stark contrasts. Charts below.
[Owen Paterson] “What we’ve got a choice of is whether we’re going to be somewhere on the outside of a new entity … doesn’t matter whichever party’s in charge, the UK will never ever join the Euro now. It’ll never join Schengen given the nightmare with migrants. So we’ll have some very dangerous new status. We’ll be somewhere floating around some sort of associate status outside the inner core, guaranteed to be outvoted in the European Parliament … the Council … and overruled by the Court of Justice.”
[Owen Paterson] “We need to get our seat back on the world bodies … increasingly rules are made at the world level where we no longer have a vote. On the World Trade Organisation we’re represented by what I’m sure is a brilliant, charming lady, an expert in her field, but the choice for me would not be a Swedish psychiatric nurse whose last job was teaching sociology at Gothenburg University. I’d have someone with real gritty experience of the UK economy.”
[Claire Hanna] “It is worth noting that the agriculture sector here is very different than in GB. It’s more of an ownership model and more similar to farming in the Republic … and that [EU] investment has allowed that sector and fishing to modernise and to diversify and to become a growth industry here. We know that agrifoods is a much more important part of our economy. The fact is that our producers don’t complete on bulk and scale, they compete on high quality and being part of the most stable market in the world – 500 million consumers ready to purchase high quality food – is absolutely vital to them.”
[Claire Hanna] “… I do think that complex global problems like climate change, like the humanitarian crises, like tax regimes, they don’t stop at borders and they can’t just be resolved by nation states. And similarly the European project and being part of Europe and shedding our perceived peripherality of Europe has been a big part of the framework for peace in Northern Ireland and placed much less emphasis on whether you’re British or Irish and just implemented through the Good Friday Agreement that basic principle that mutual dependence and economic cooperation and shared endeavour is the most successful model for conflict resolution.”
There was much discussion over the length of time that would be taken to renegotiate new trade details in the event of Brexit. This was countered by the assertion that the existing trade deals would remain in place while new ones were negotiated so there would be no “falling off a cliff”. Which led to differences of opinion on whether the emphasis on migration would inevitably lead to stronger border controls for goods and services as well as people.
Other questions and points of discussion looked at the benefit of the ERASMUS student scheme and the impact of Brexit and teasing out how the risks of unknowns around leaving the EU were balanced by the certainties of remaining in membership.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.