It’s no surprise that Nigel Farage wiped the floor with Carwyn Jones. Here’s what my debate with the director of ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ taught me about the Remain campaign.
Last week, I had the pleasure of debating the ‘Stronger In’ [the European Union] campaign’s Executive Director, Will Straw, in front of the Foreign Press Association.
His performance was polished, slick even – but very far from the “positive and patriotic vision” we’ve long been promised by those who wish to trade our sovereignty away for another generation.
Instead, we got a rehash of the old fear-mongering, half-truths and scare stories Pro-EU types have been pitching for years.
I almost couldn’t believe my ears when Will started accusing Leave campaigners of resorting to “wild and inaccurate figures”, before claiming that the European Union (EU)-funded Confederation of British Industry (CBI) had calculated that EU membership was worth £3,000 to every household in the UK.
This claim was universally panned when the CBI first made it in 2013, being based on a review of cost-benefit studies the award-winning Channel 4 FactCheck described as “partial and one-sided”. The headline figure of £3,000 is twice as optimistic as any of the studies it is supposed to be based on, with FactCheck finally concluding that the number is “not based on any real evidence”.
Yet two years on, Will is still pushing it. Can he really be this clueless, or do the Euro-elite hold the public in such low regard that they think they can just pump out any old rubbish?
Even more unforgivable was the repetition of the ancient scare story about Brexit (a British EU-exit) being a threat to the three million jobs linked to trade with Europe. This goes back more than fifteen years, to a report by the then-director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, Martin Weale, which the old campaign for Britain to join the euro used to threaten the public.
Then as now, of course, saying jobs are linked to trade with EU members is quite different from saying jobs are dependent on EU membership. Indeed, Martin Weale himself described the Europhiles’ interpretation of his work as “absurd”.
“It’s pure Goebbels. In many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts… Nobody could plausibly believe the figures [and] there is no reason why being outside the EU should necessarily involve mass unemployment.”
More importantly there are 6.5 million EU-based jobs in Germany, France and the rest related to their trade with the UK – so there’s just no way that Ms. Merkel or Mr. Hollande would put them at risk by erecting trade barriers. It just doesn’t make sense.
To be fair to Will, he did manage to tack on a few new arguments to these classic Euro-howlers. We heard that the EU strengthens our national security – barely two months after Interpol chief Robert Noble condemned its Schengen Area as “effectively an international passport-free zone for terrorists”.
We were also threatened with losing the dangerously illiberal European Arrest Warrant (EAW)– used to deport Welsh teenager Andrew Symeou to a vermin-infested, Greek prison where he was held without trial for almost a year on bogus charges, without the British authorities ever getting a chance to evaluate the case against him.
Some threat. To be clear, the EAW has seen just under 700 criminals brought to charges in the UK in all its years of operation.
Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information request from 2011 revealed that criminals across the EU are taking advantage of free movement to carry out 500 crimes in Britain every week. It makes more sense to control our borders to reduce crime than to have an arrest warrant that could be replaced by international agreements that protect our citizens.
Will said, several times, that staying in the EU was a matter of “simple arithmetic” – but the numbers here just don’t add up, with the free-for-all system he’s defending posing a clear danger to the public, giving a bad name to the law-abiding majority of migrants into bargain.
The more we started to debate these issues, the more poor Will seemed to confuse himself. When I said we needed to be able to manage migration for the sake of our public services and make sure we were attracting the right sort of people, he demanded I tell him who the “wrong people” might be, seeming to imply that there is no such thing.
So much for New Labour claiming to have “learned its lesson” on immigration. Personally, I would suggest “wrong people” might include the likes of convicted rapist Marek Harcar, who killed Scottish businesswoman Moira Jones, or convicted murderer Arnis Zalkalns, who killed teenager Alice Gross.
But assuming Will is right, and there are no “wrong people”, why should free movement be restricted to Europeans? If he were to follow his argument through to its logical conclusion, we should open our borders to the whole world.
I’m afraid he wasn’t any more coherent on trade. First he boasted that the EU had signed free trade agreements with more than fifty countries – then he claimed that it was a “fantasy” to imagine that it would sign a free trade agreement with the UK, its single biggest export market. This would be “unprecedented”, he told me, demanding to know what evidence I had that such a thing was possible.
I was too embarrassed to point out that the fifty countries he had already supplied were the evidence. Had he really missed the contradiction?
I don’t think young Will is a bad guy. It’s just that he grew up as the young prince of a cosy, metropolitan political elite, and he genuinely can’t imagine life beyond the gilded cage of EU membership.
This came through most clearly when he started claiming Switzerland has no access to the Single Market in services, when the European Commission’s own website lists Switzerland as “a very important partner” in this trade, or that claims we are constantly outvoted in Brussels couldn’t “be further from the truth”, when we are in fact in a voting minority more often than any other EU member.
He was right on one thing, when he said that “Britain has always been at our best when we stand tall and play our full part in international organisations”.
To do that, we need to leave the EU, take back the power to make bilateral deals with our old partners in countries like Canada, Australia and India, and regain our independent vote on global bodies like the World Trade Organisation.
The United Kingdom is a great country. Let’s have peace, commerce and honest friendship with our neighbours, by all means, but we can stand on our own two feet on the world stage. That’s the normal condition for every advanced democracy outside the European Union – that’s not a “leap in the dark”.
Arron Banks runs the Leave.EU organisation, the largest grassroots movement of people dedicated to leaving the European Union