Thursday 23 February 2017

We need to be calmer about 'Brexit' debate - UK minister

Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

Lord Francis Maude at the seminar held by UK Trade & Investment in partnership with PwC. Photo: Iain White/Fennell Photography
Lord Francis Maude at the seminar held by UK Trade & Investment in partnership with PwC. Photo: Iain White/Fennell Photography

The UK's Trade and Investment Minister called for calm surrounding the debate on Britain's EU referendum during a visit to Dublin yesterday.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Lord Francis Maude said the issue barely came up when he spoke with investors at a breakfast briefing yesterday organised by accountancy group PwC.

British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet European Council President Donald Tusk in London on Sunday, as officials prepare to reveal details of reform negotiations next week.

The meeting will follow Mr Cameron's talks in Brussels today with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Lord Maude said the sooner the reform package is agreed and Mr Cameron can present it to the British people, "then the sooner we can get on and have it and get it done".

But he said the issue comes up "less than you think" when he's talking to investors.

"I did a breakfast with a bunch of tech companies who are interested in doing stuff in the UK, and it barely came up.

"I don't think it's the most important thing," he said.

"People know that the UK isn't suddenly going to be in the euro, it isn't suddenly going to be in Schengen.

"There are big chunks of what the EU does that Britain isn't part of, and isn't going to be part of, so we just need to be a bit calmer about it all."

Asked if he believed the negative commentary about a potential British exit was overblown, he said he doesn't "hear catastrophe merchants around the place".

"People who argue that it would be catastrophic to leave are probably over stating it. Equally those who claim that it would be a massive liberation are overstating it, because, assuming we need to be part of the single market, you're not suddenly going to lose the burdens and contributions that come with that."

Lord Maude said that if there was a vote to withdraw, it would be "very odd" that given the scale of Britain's economy and its trading relationship with the EU, that there wouldn't be some "sensible arrangement" that would allow Britain to remain in the single market.

Separately, the minister said there needs to be more joint trade missions involving the UK and Ireland.

The first mission, to the Singapore Air Show, took place in 2014 following on from agreement reached in Downing Street in 2012 between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr Cameron.

There are currently no concrete plans for a second, Lord Maude said.

Irish Independent

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