It was the largest debate in The Spectator’s history: we sold out the 2,200-seat London Palladium for our debate on whether Britain should leave the EU, sponsored by Rathbones.
The lineup: Dan Hannan, Nigel Farage and Kate Hoey vs Nick Clegg, Liz Kendall and Chuka Umunna. Andrew Neil chaired.
Here are summaries of all the speeches, as well as the full audio:
Daniel Hannan for Out.
Tonight, I’m inviting you to make me redundant – and, into the bargain, make Nigel redundant. And I wouldn’t be doing if I were not confident that there will be plenty of openings for newly-unemployed MEPs in the boom that would follow our exit from the European Union. Why do we tie ourselves to the one part of the world that is not experiencing significant economic growth? The eurozone, incredibly, was the same size at the end of last year as it was in 2006. Every continent on this planet has grown over the past decade except Antartica and the European Union. We are a trading people. We dont sit on great natural resources here, we have to make our way by what we by and sell, that means we have to be where the customers are. And that means as long as we’re in the European Union, we cannot sign independent trade deals with non-EU countries.
The EU deal with Australia is being held up because some Italian tomato-growers are challenging it. The EU deal with Canada is being held up due to an unrelated dispute about Romanian visa. How have we put ourselves in a position where we can’t do those deals? Liz Kendall quotes some Davos men telling us that we can’t leave because we’d be worse off – but wages would rise, prices would fall. If we stay in, neither will happen.
It’s not just the financial price of EU membership – it’s the democratic price. We fought a civil war in this country to establish the principle that laws should not be passed nor taxes raised except by our own elected representatives. And now supreme power is held by people who tend to owe their positions to having just lost elections: Peter Mandelson, Neil Kinnock and what have you.
No one is talking about drawbridges or isolation. Nowhere else in the world do countries apologise for wanting to live under their own laws. New Zealand is not about to join Australia. Japan is not applying to join China – and do you hear anyone complaining about these bigoted Sino-sceptics in Tokyo? It is a natural healthy thing for a democracy to live under its own laws whilst trading with every other country in the world. The United Kingdom is the world’s fifth-largest country, its fourth-largest military power. How much bigger do we have to be before we have the confidence to raise our eyes to more distant horizons?
Next, Chuka Umunna for In.
The EU isn’t perfect, I don’t think any of the three of us are saying that. But the question on 23 June is whether we are safer and stronger and better off in than out, and I think we are. The bedroom tax, NHS, robbing tax credits from the working poor: whatever you think about these things, they have all been implemented by a Tory-led government. They have nothing to do with the EU. Nor do most things that you hear discussed on the news every day.
It’s just not true that we get trampled on in the EU: nine out of ten times, we’re on the majority side. If you want control, don’t give it up by sacrificing your power of influence. Does Nato membership diminish our control of our own affairs? Not at all. As for sovereignty, if you took the Leave campaigners argument, the most sovereign nation in the world would probably be North Korea – because they don’t work with anyone.
Now, if you listen to Farage, we’re all part of a global elite conspiracy. Now, I was still an university when Dan Hannan was elected to the European Parliament – but being connected makes sense to the young because that’s what we’re used to. We’re not at war with these guys any more. We live in a complex world and we can either adopt a small vision of Britain, where we fail to live up to our history. Or we can give the next generation a proud ambitious and self confident nation. So I say: let’s go big, let’s make Britain even greater than it is already and reject the small vision for our country offered up by the people who want us to leave. Let’s stand tall.
Here’s Katy Balls take:
Chuka put forward a punchy case for remain, even though he did concede that the EU could hardly be described as ‘perfect’. He managed to include a few ‘key messages’ in there such as Britain being ‘safer, stronger and better’ in the EU, but his criticism of the Leave camp made the greatest impression. The Labour MP said that if we were to follow the Leave campaigners’ argument on sovereignty, the most sovereign nation in the world would probably be North Korea. As for suggestions that there is an establishment conspiracy to stay in the EU, Umunna says any theory that suggests David Cameron and Len McCluskey are conspiring with one another as part of an establishment stitch-up is ‘complete and utter tosh’.
Kate Hoey for Out.
Our basic right is our right to make laws. I don’t believe you can trust people in power if they can’t be removed by elections. No one can deny that the EU’s government, the Commission, is unelected and cannot be removed by any of us through elections. That fact alone is enough to reject the EU. It’s not socialist or democratic – the EU is anti-democratic. Its principals are those of a free market, but not of a political system. The EU’s purpose is to rule in the smooth running of a corporist economy.
At least when I oppose Tory policies, I can vote on them. We can’t do this with the EU. The EU is an attempt to replace the democratic power of the people with a permanent administration in the interests of big business. Everything else is a smokescreen. It’s very clear why Obama was threatening us. The EU can never be reformed. What does Leave look like? It looks like all the other 169 countries in the world, most of them with true democratic accountability. Let us be clear, there is no certainty in remaining in the EU. We need to set our country free from future servitude.
Here’s Fraser Nelson’s verdict:
Quite a gutsy case for out: she invoked the old Labour pledge which she and Jeremy Corbyn made to get out of Europe. And she also made the progressive case for out, saying that Labour mistakenly thought that Brussels was a guarantor of workers’ rights. And finally, a powerfully partisan point: Vote ‘leave’ to ensure a new Labour government has full powers to repair the damage of the Tory years.
Nick Clegg for In.
The more this debate has continued over the last few weeks, the more I have the feeling that this debate is about who we are, what Great Britain is, what are we going to be as a country now and in the future – are we going to be open, or closed?
I think the only way we can maximise control over our own destiny is by working hand in glove with our nearest neighbours in the European Union. We are safer and stronger and in many respects bigger together.
This is a once in a generation vote, if we decide to close the door in the face of Europe, lock the door, throw the key away, we’re not only denying opportunities for us now but we’re also closing the door for future generations – my kids, your kids, for all of our grandchildren. We must not just think about ourselves, we must also think about the duty we have to future generations. Because they are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of the decision taken by this generation more than anywhere here today. I believe, however flawed the European Union and of course it is, the future generations of this country will be safe, will be better off, will be stronger by remaining in the European Union.
Nigel Farage for Out.
The Remain side – or the ‘Remainians’, as I think they are now known – have clubbed together. They’ve got Goldman Sachs, they’ve got Siemens, they’ve got the IMF, they’ve got Obama, telling us if we don’t remain a part of the European Union, dreadful things will happen to us. They are putting the leave camp on the backfoot to try and put us off the main arguments in this referendum. The fact is, we don’t have a good deal. Do not believe them when they say that we can’t access the single market. Even in the worst case scenario where Britain has to rely on WTO rules, the cost of tariffs would be less than our next contribution. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote to take back the independence and control of this country’s laws, this country’s courts and this country’s borders.
I believe in democracy. When a European law is made, there is nothing we can do to reverse it. There is no direct democratic accountability in this system.
Net migration is now running at ten times the post-war average. We have to build a new house in this country every seven minutes just to cope. We are short tens of thousands of primary school places for this September. What we need to do, is take back control of our borders. Let’s put in place, post-Brexit, a sensible, normal immigration policy. Let’s have people who haven’t got criminal records. And let’s have people who will add and contribute to the economy but let’s have them in sensible numbers.
In this age of terrorism, we would be safer taking back control of our borders – and getting back our sovereignty. This opportunity must not be given up.
And Lara Prendergast’s verdict:
Farage’s speech was impressive, and revved the audience. But he did admit that the Leave camp were on the backfoot. Surely that’s a reference to the Obama ‘back of the queue’ speech? But it was impressive that he did it all off by heart – it went down well, and showed how strongly he cares about Brexit. Not that there was much doubt about it. A few gags were thrown in there – the Romanian one went down better than the Ozzy one. Perhaps more Australians in the audience tonight than Romanians?
Liz Kendall for In.
In a world that’s more connected than ever before, real control – the power to shape our destiny, rather than be left to the mercy of events – comes from working with our neighbours. I think President Obama was absolutely right. Being a member of the EU gives Britain more influence and power, not less.
Cutting ourselves off from our neighbours and allies in Europe would diminish Britain’s power not increase it. And it would give us less control to shape our future, not more. In the end, this referendum will come down to the central question of our economy. There is not a single, serious, credible independent organisation that thinks we would be better off out.
Britain is stronger in the EU and the EU is stronger with Britain as one of its members. I know whose side I am on: the side of our true friends and allies. I am not worried about taking on Ukip. The decision we take on 23 June will define the future of our country, our economy, our safety and security.
Labour voters deserve a strong, patriotic campaign.
Here’s Fraser’s analysis of Liz Kendall’s speech:
Liz Kendall’s opening speech was a brief tour of the main Remain arguments. trump card: “There is not a single serious independent organisation that thinks we’d be better off out”. Out campaign chief Dominic Cummings admitted that some people will suffer, she said (referring to an old Spectator debate) but you can bet it won’t be the like of Boris who would suffer. And who would cheer Brexit? Putin and Marine Le Pen. Interesting how Madame le Pen has been added to the list of baddies: expect to hear more of that ahead of her planned visit to Britain
Steerpike has a quick observation:
Stuart Rose isn’t even here and he’s still causing the In campaign problems. The hapless chair of Britain Stronger in Europe’s comments on wages have come back to haunt Liz Kendall. When Kendall argued that Brexit could result in economic uncertainty and problems, Kate Hoey reminded her Labour comrade that her Remain chief has said that wages would most likely rise in the event of Brexit as there would be less cheap Labour. Kendall’s reply? ‘Alan Johnson is the head of the campaign I support’. The Remain camp is not a harmonious one.
We’re now on to questions from the audience:
- If we vote to remain, how can we control immigration? Liz Kendall says if you come here you should abide by the rules, and work – but we also need to speak up for the positive arguments for immigration. When we have an open door, we attract the best and brightest, but also some of the worst. We should be able to stop this, says Nigel Farage. If we vote to remain, we can’t control immigration. Nick Clegg starts talking about walls – they don’t work in the long run. It’s a good thing we are out of the Schengen arrangement though. Border force on external borders need to be sorted out. Dan Hannan suggests that we need to let people in from beyond the EU – we should be able to decide who comes in on the basis of merit.
- If we leave the EU could it lead to the break up the UK? No, says Kate Hoey; the Scots want to have a referendum whatever happens. If we leave the EU, the UK could break up, says Chuka Umunna, because the SNP aren’t split on this issue.
- If the Russian bear is rumbling, are we better in or out of the EU? It makes no difference, so long as we are in Nato, says Dan Hannan. But what about Trump? We are still better off if we take back control, he says. You can’t predict everything, but we must have control. Liz Kendall says that if we leave the EU we play into Putin’s hands. Nick Clegg says Putin’s aggression has been dampened by the EU’s sanctions.
- Is it wise to leave Europe to the Europeans? Kate Hoey says the EU could not do anything to sort out some of Europe’s worst humanitarian crises, so it is a moot point.
- Given that tariffs are so low, why is access to the single market so important (from Stuart Wheeler)? We have more certainty if we are in it, says Chuka Umunna. The single market is a fable, says Nigel Farage.
- What’s the most positive reason for staying in the EU? More opportunities for jobs and growth, says Liz Kendall. Plus tackling climate change. Safety in numbers, says Nick Clegg – and having the best of both worlds.
- Shouldn’t we remain in the EU for peacekeeping purposes? Dan Hannan suggests the EU causes more problems than it solves. We don’t owe the EU our peace. Nato of course plays a role, says Chuka Umunna. But the EU has played a huge role. Nigel Farage says the EU is good at encouraging democracy before countries join the EU, but afterwards, it’s hopeless.
- For a student with debt, why would he vote for economic uncertainty? Kate Hoey says there will be some uncertainty. But will there also be uncertainty if we stay? Yes, says Liz Kendall, but there won’t be as much risk. The problem is that ‘Leave’ still haven’t described the deal that they want to negotiate. Nick Clegg admits he’s not the best person to talk about tuition fees, but says students should think about where they want to work in the future – because modern trade has changed. It’s about laws – not tariff barriers.
- Can we vote to get out of Eurovision if we leave the EU? Yes, it’s been rigged against us says Nigel Farage. Yes, let’s get out, says Kate Hoey. We are safer and stronger in it, says Nick Clegg. I love it says, Liz Kendall. It’s harmless, says Chuka Umunna. Dan Hannan says let’s have a referendum on it.
Now onto Andrew Neil’s questions.
- Dan Hannan is asked about companies that are members of the EU. Their presence here suggests we don’t need to be part of the EU. We are a global trading country – we don’t need to be in the EU.
- Chuka Umunna is asked about being shackled to the EU. We export around 44% of goods, he says. We have access to various trade agreements they have. I don’t buy the argument that we can’t trade with the EU and also other countries. It’s not an either or situation.
- Nigel Farage is asked about pulling up the drawbridge. He says he doesn’t want to pull up the bridge, just keep a check on whoever is coming over it. The fact is, we have an open door. Merkel wants Turkey to be a member.
Now onto the vote…… and the LEAVES HAVE IT. It was also striking how many people were undecided even after two hours after the debate.
For some post-match analysis, do listen to our Coffee House podcast special, with Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth and Lara Prendergast:
Thanks for joining us this evening – and do join us for more debate on Coffee House in the coming weeks.