Welcome to Coffee House’s coverage of ITV’s EU referendum debate. David Cameron and Nigel Farage faced public questions on the EU referendum. Here’s our commentary, as well as audio and video highlights, from the discussion.
PODCAST: Listen to Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman give their verdict on Cameron vs Farage:
James Forsyth David Cameron looked pretty happy at the end of that. He got his choice of opponent in this debate and did everything he could to take advantage of that, mentioning Farage at every opportunity. Cameron also benefited from going second, another thing which he got his way on, as he could rebut Farage’s points without any opportunity for Farage to reply. But Cameron also gained from engaging more with the audience than Farage did and not being as tetchy, even laughing when asked if he was finished whatever the result of this referendum.
Isabel Hardman Cameron’s answer to the man who complained that no-one knew who their MEP was contained a pragmatic pitch to stay. This was no starry-eyed Nick Clegg-style love song to Europe, but a gentle grumble about the problems with the European Union alongside an argument that it is still on balance better to stay in. This would perhaps be more powerful had the Prime Minister managed to show that it is possible to wield influence and bring about reform in his renegotiation. But as the questions on what he had or hadn’t achieved showed, it’s difficult to argue that the renegotiation really shows this.
Fraser Nelson That point made to the Prime Minister – the UK Supreme Court isn’t supreme – was unanswerable. So he didn’t attempt to answer it and started talking about electric cars instead. And I wasn’t, until now, aware that the EU was preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Tom Goodenough David Cameron again makes his pitch to people to consider their children and grandchildren when they come to vote. That same message was a key part of his powerful closing statement in last week’s Sky debate and it won’t be the last time we hear that thought from the PM before 23 June. As with his warnings over the possible damage Brexit would do to the economy, he wants people to weigh up when they turn up to the vote whether they’re doing damage for future generations. He wants to paint leaving the EU as the rash move and hope that by putting that thought into voters’ heads that they’ll stick with the status quo.
James Forsyth After quite a comfortable start, Cameron has just faced a difficult exchange with a voter who said that uncontrolled EU immigration meant he couldn’t get into a GP’s surgery and couldn’t get a house for his family. Things then got more awkward when the voter pointed out to Cameron that he’d voted Tory because of the tens of thousands pledge and that the EU free movement means Cameron can’t deliver that.
Isabel Hardman Cameron’s answer on controlling immigration was fatally undermined by the fact that the Tories have never managed to meet their back-of-a-fag-packet promise to drive net migration into the ‘tens of thousands’. The audience member who asked him about this made his disappointment in a party that he voted for very clear: the Prime Minister has failed to secure any concessions in his renegotiation that will make it possible for that target to be met. All Cameron could do was attack the ‘Little England of Nigel Farage’ and argue that the more important approach from the government was to strengthen the economy.
Fraser Nelson The first applause of the evening went to a questioner, not to Cameron. Then the second applause, the loudest, was for someone else who admonished Cameron for his saying last week that Brexit was ‘rolling the dice’ – surely staying in is rolling the dice? And this from an ex-Tory voter. He’s starting to look a bit worried, as if this might be another monstering.
Fraser Nelson ‘I can’t remember a time when you had such a consensus of all these economists’ says Cameron. Yes: they once all forecast that the UK economy would grow in 2007. Instead, the great crash arrived. Cars would face a 10pc tariff, he says: but he also says Brexit would mean sterling plunging more than that. If so, the carmakers would be quids in.
Fraser Nelson So Nigel Farage was, in the end, not the swivel-eyed humiliation that the Leave campaign had feared he might be. His point about immigration being fiscally neutral – but that not really being the point anymore – was well-sourced and logical. At that point, the questioner looked a bit madder. Farage was also quite right to draw attention to how the former Secretary-General of Interpol declared that the EU’s ‘open-border arrangement…. is effectively an international passport-free zone for terrorists to execute attacks on the continent and make their escape.’ He was lucky to be taken to task on an issue where, he was in the right: an audience member asked if you really could refer to Jean-Claude Juncker as ‘unelected’. Err, yes. If anything, Farage looked a bit too sober, even sad: has left his pint glass and fag at home tonight. And the Leave campaign should be grateful for that.
James Forsyth Perhaps, inevitably Nigel Farage gets asked about his Cologne comments and the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that he ‘legitimised racism’. Farage is relatively restrained in his response. But still a slightly uncomfortable moment for him. Doesn’t get easier when the next questioner, says that in the black British community there’s concern that his approach to immigration is increasing prejudice.
Isabel Hardman Nigel Farage is coming across as rather brisk in this Q&A so far. That’s just his style. It worked in the European elections when he was head-to-head with Nick Clegg, but in this referendum Leave needs to convince swing voters, rather than just boost support amongst people who already agree with a party that they want to support as a protest vote. Does a brisk, grumpy style work with those swing voters? Or have they already made up their minds on Farage anyway? In his response to the question about sexual assault, the Ukip leader turned on the young woman asking it, telling her to calm down, before accusing the Archbishop of Canterbury of not reading his piece warning that staying in the EU could put women at greater risk of sexual assault. He is not taking a consensual approach on this.
Lara Prendergast Was that almost a ‘calm down dear’ from Farage? It sounded like it. Not a great turn of phrase, especially when the conversation has turned to sexual assault. He seems to have brought his aggressive game this evening, and isn’t exactly responding to the questions – shouting over people in a rather unedifying way.
Lara Prendergast We’re now onto a discussion about whether we might be punished if we leave. ‘We’re British, we’re not going to be bullied,’ says Farage. ‘Least of all by Jean-Claude Juncker’, who he keeps referring to as ‘charming’. He’s an obvious unelected bogeyman to bring up at this stage.
James Forsyth: Nigel Farage does have more than one mode, as he showed in his second debate with Nick Clegg back in 2014 he can be a calmer, more optimistic presence when he wants to be. But will that Farage turn up tonight or will we see the one who talks about the risks of Cologne-style attacks on women if we stay in the EU? Farage needs remember that there is a reason that Number 10 wanted Cameron to debate him, not someone from Vote Leave.
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