The European question

Helen Dunne reviews a lively morning discussion

ANDREW HAYES, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, HUDSON SANDLER

My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern us all, the laws we must obey, the taxes we must all pay, should be decided by the people we choose and that we can throw out if we want change.

Today, about 65 per cent of the new laws that govern us are decided by politicians and bureaucrats from other nations who we have never elected and can’t throw out. Despite the undoubted idealism of the EU’s founders, it has not proved fit for purpose on so many fronts. The euro has created economic misery for Europe’s poorest people. European Union regulation has entrenched mass unemployment.

Its accounts have not been signed off by the Court of Audit for 19 years because of endemic corruption and waste. EU immigration policies have encouraged people traffickers and brought desperate refugee camps to our borders. Fascism is on the rise across Europe, and I believe it is partly fuelled by the democratic deficit at the heart of its institutions. Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the European Union, in my view, has become a source of instability and insecurity.

By leaving we can shape an optimistic, forward-looking and genuinely internationalist alternative to the path the EU is going down. The UK would be freer to make its own new trade deals with non-European countries that today are delayed by objections. We could bring valuable talent into the UK from outside the European Union, which is now practically impossible.

Outside the European Union, the UK would not run the same risk of being drawn into the failings of flawed schemes such as the euro or the Schengen Area. We have the world’s fifth largest economy; parliamentary institutions that stretch back at least to 1688; London, at the heart of the world’s financial and creative industries. Our language is lingua franca of the world. We have a seat on the UN Security Council, and would once again have one on the World Trade Organisation.

You can argue about economics, but it’s not going to be Armageddon. There may be a transition period where there’s a bit more volatility, but this is a decision for ten, 20, 30 years. It’s ultimately about the kind of country we want to be and how our politics work and how we hold politicians accountable. I think that gets obscured by a lot of the shortterm debate around whether this business man says we should come out or what our GDP might be in a few years’ time. We want to take control of our future and take control of our politics.

Staying in the European Union is not a risk-free option. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the Eurozone, that could very well implode over the next three or four years. We don’t know the impact of Turkish accession. President Hollande recently said France will veto the free trade deal with North America.

My proposition is we can have more stability, we can have much more control over all these matters by withdrawing than staying in a project that is clearly flawed. I’m struck that you [the other panelists] haven’t made a positive case for the European Union; you’ve talked about the risks of leaving, but you haven’t talked about the positive case for staying in, because I don’t think there is one.

We are the fifth biggest economy. Europe has a huge trade deficit with the UK, primarily with Germany: three per cent of Germany’s GDP is just their trade surplus to the UK. I think about eight to nine per cent of the German economy relates to trade with the UK. Decisions will be made in Germany. Germany has a huge interest in having a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom. I don’t think that will change.

If you look at the evidence since the Referendum was announced, you would actually see inward investment into the UK going up. We’ve seen the £20 billion bid for the London Stock Exchange by Deutsche Boerse, that’s happened since the Referendum was announced. The fundamentals won’t change. We’ll negotiate a different relationship, a much freer one that allows us to thrive, gives us far more flexibility gives us the ability to conclude trade deals with other parts of the world that have been stalled because the European Union cannot get consensus across its 28 members.

One effect of us leaving the European Union is that I think it would be a huge kick up the proverbial for the EU to say We do need to reform. We do need to change. I think it would be a net win. I think we’d be better off, I think Europe will have to take a long, hard look at how it functions and will have to reform. Staying in would be full steam ahead. They would say, Let’s really go for it, let’s really accelerate that integration process, let’s look at fiscal integration.

RICHARD PATIENT, FOUNDER, THORNCLIFFE PR, AND LONDON CHAIR OF BUSINESS FOR BRITAIN 

As a business owner and entrepreneur, I know what it feels like to grow a business. The last thing you need when you’re trying to build and run a business is time-consuming red tape. Five years ago, the BCCI reported that EU regulations cost British business £80 billion a year. Think about the bureaucracy of public procurement rules created by Brussels which make it very difficult for SMEs to bid for many contracts in the face of larger corporates.

EU rules pervade every aspect of our lives, from control of the VAT on tampons to restrictions on the overtime people can work, inhibiting the income of British workers and holding back the productivity of British companies. The EU creates a regime which provides an unlimited supply of cheap labour to the UK, thus creating a low wage, low skill, low productivity economy, whilst causing businesses to be deprived of the skills they actually need from outside the EU.

Even if we got no trade deal after leaving the EU, which of course we will, the effect on exports would be very marginal indeed, a rounding error in a currency movement. The vast majority of tariffs applied by the EU are less than five per cent and on average, three per cent.

Just think how much more productive we would be without the drag anchor of an EU in terminal relative decline. We could join a growing world economy.

Thousands of SMEs have joined our campaign to ‘vote to leave’, but the fact is business is actually bullied into campaigning, just as they were on the euro, because of Government contracts and other things. Half of businesses responding to surveys are for Leave.

The EU likes to take credit for things it hasn’t actually done. The EU dishonestly takes credit for global agreements on roaming charges. It originates from a convention agreed for the OECD; if anything, the EU delayed the process.

Leading investors, including Toyota, Nissan, JCB, Airbus and GE have made it clear that if we vote to leave, it will not affect their investment in the UK.

JENNY HALPERN-PRINCE, FOUNDER, HALPERN PR 

I am involved in this campaign because I think it would be a terrible loss to leave. For centuries, Britain has been a powerful trading nation with a dynamic economy at the centre of European and world affairs. That’s we how became the strong, proud, prosperous country we are today. It’s why British people are better off and safer. It’s why the choice facing us today in this Referendum is the biggest we’ve ever had to make.

Do we just walk away, risking jobs and weakening our economy? Do we continue to lead in the world by leading in Europe or do we risk diminishing our influence on the world stage by turning our back on Europe? Do we protect our ability to combat security threats like cross-border crime, terrorism, climate change or reject the partnerships that make it possible?

In short, do we choose to be stronger within an economy that creates new opportunities and has the power to shape the future, or do choose to be weaker and less able to influence global developments which risk harming our economy and compromising our safety?

Of course, the European Union is not perfect; no partnership is, which is why we always need to argue for reform, now, tomorrow, and into the future. Being part of a larger group always involves some compromise, but the fact is we are stronger and safer and better off in Europe than we would be out of it.

The benefits clearly outweigh the costs. Almost half of everything we sell to the rest of the world, we sell to Europe. We get an average of £24.1 billion of investment into Britain per year from Europe. Three to four million jobs in Britain are linked to trade with the rest of Europe.

Being part of Europe actually means we get cheaper prices in the supermarket, cheaper flights to Europe and lower phone charges when travelling. The average person in Britain saves around £480 every year because trading with Europe drives down the prices of goods and services.

We get more out than we put in. Our annual contribution is actually equivalent to £340 per household. And yet the CBI says that all the trade, investment, jobs and lower prices that come from our economic partnership actually is worth £3,000 per year to every household. That’s a return on investment of ten to one.

Why do you think the majority of big businesses want to stay in? We’ve seen letters of support. We’ve actually seen that 81 per cent of SMEs want to be able to stay in.

CHARLES LEWINGTON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, HANOVER 

I’ve just come back from Dubai, where I’m thinking of setting up an office, and I had first-hand experience of what it’s like to try and set up a business in a market where you’re an outsider – rich in regulation, licence requirements, visa applications, the fact that you have to have a fairly substantial amount of money on your balance sheet before you can even open the door, and also the fact that you have to have loads of local content in the business. The single market is fantastically important and we should all know and appreciate that.

Forty-four per cent of our trade exports go to the EU. If we left, and were able to negotiate in a timely fashion an equivalent deal, we would remain, I think, the third biggest non-EU exporter into the European Union, after China and the US. Eighty per cent of those exports are business services. If you think that if we withdraw from the European Union, the French or German competitors [of business services] are going to stand by and let us continue to trade in the same way, you’ve got another think coming.

Why is it that Goldman and JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley and Citi have headquarters and balance sheets in the UK? It’s not because they like houses in Kensington or shopping on Bond Street, it’s because the UK gives them access to the European Union. Also they pay very large amounts of corporate tax.

I hate regulation as much as the next person, but it’s a myth that if we left, we’d somehow be free of regulation. In my view, the UK Government is as bad at regulating as the Commission. Secondly, if we need a new trade deal with the European Union, we’re going to have to sign up to the same regulatory standards that we’re now complaining about. So when Brexiteers say We’re going to be free of red tape, it is a complete myth if we’re going to be continue to trade in the way that we currently are.

Bandying around sovereignty is a dangerous word, and in my view, it would be wrong to pull up the drawbridge just because of some outdated notion that we are better off outside as an island nation.

I was talking the other day to a very senior BBC business journalist who said the BBC [was having problems] finding any substantial employee, of 50,000 plus people, who believes in pulling out of the European Union. It’s presenting a problem for the BBC because they are obliged to provide a balance.

We are part of an extremely large single market, with access to 300 million people. If that is not a fundamental economic reason for remaining in, I’m not sure what else one can say?

I think one of the main drivers of increased foreign direct investment (FDI), which has been a fantastic success story of this current and previous coalition administration, is that investors see the UK as enjoying the best of both worlds. You can come to the UK, you can access this huge single market, you can enjoy the flexibility of the labour force and you can dip into the EU talent pool if that’s what you so require.

We also have, which is a big driver of foreign direct investment, one of the lowest corporation tax rates in the EU, aside from Ireland. I would worry really quite seriously that, if we withdrew, FDI would drop quite sharply. I have a lot of clients who are putting important investment decisions in the UK on hold, pending 23 June.

You’re an American drugs company and you’ve got a new blockbuster oncology drug and you want to launch it in the European market. Currently, you can get that drug approved once across the European Union and very often, as a consequence of that, they launch the drug in the UK.

Now if we were to come out – first of all, the regulatory headquarters of the pharmaceutical industry would move from London over to Brussels. And you’re an American business, so you would think We might as well launch it in the bigger part of the market before we offer it to patients in the UK. That’s just one small example of how we would be disadvantaged by not being in a single market.

I think we’re entering a very unstable period in terms of geo-politics. The rise of terrorism not just in the Middle East but in North Africa. We’re dealing with fanatical outrages, almost on a daily basis, of unbelievable horror. The idea that we should say in response to that that we’re not going to work with other countries to solve this problem is a bit like putting our head in the sand and pretending that there isn’t a geo-political problem of huge enormity. It’s not an efficient model, I concede that, but the idea that we deal with these problems better off on our own is for the birds.

SIMON BRISCOE, INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT AND STATISTICIAN 

 I think if there’s anything we do know about this, it’s that we don’t know whether we’ll be better in or better out.

I’m worried about the use of numbers. The set of outcomes that got the most publicity was when the Treasury produced a report [suggesting each household would be worse off by £4,300 a year if Britain left the EU].As someone who was an economist for 20-odd years, I did find that a bit disappointing. It takes us to the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. The Treasury did a reasonable job of tackling the downside on the known knowns but the unknowns, which I think is essentially the case on which the leave case rests, is a difficult one. We just don’t know. It could be rather better or it could be rather worse.

When you look at the last ten or 20 years, the rate of economic growth, broadly speaking, in Europe has been lower than it has been everywhere else. I think the OECD forecast for the next ten or 20 years sees Europe growing at a rate of less than two per cent. Most other countries will be growing rather faster. What lies behind economic growth is this concept of productivity and what I do want to hear from the Stay In campaign is quite where that drive for productivity is going to come from within the European Union, because that is one thing that I don’t particularly see.

I find this a bit frustrating as it’s presented as black and white. I’m not sure which is black and which is white. The reality is that it isn’t. Just about everything in this debate is shades of grey or speculation. That’s what makes it difficult for anyone who is still undecided about this.

We are, as a country, so embedded in a global market and so embedded in the European market that, as a statistician, I think that the trade figures and the FDI figures are really not worth the paper that the Office of National Statistics prints them on.

This 44 per cent of British exports going to the EU, there are few elements which we know are not very accurate. Two or three per cent is stuff that is simply shipped to Rotterdam or Antwerp, which is then immediately shipped out. So that’s British stuff that’s very obviously destined somewhere else. I can’t even begin to unravel this. A wing of an aeroplane that is produced in North Wales, that is ultimately shipped out to Toulouse to be put on an Airbus, which is then sold to the Emirates or an American airline. You can’t imagine what the impact is on statistics and whether any of this is remotely accurately recorded.

Whenever anybody says something, I try to imagine their motivation. The reality is that if you’re the leader of a major company or a major state, I would imagine that surely what you want is the status quo. You want to avoid problems, you want to avoid change, and you want to avoid risk.