Monday 22 July 2019

The Brexit debate: Maurice Pratt (retail legend) Vs Tim Martin (founder of pub chain Wetherspoon)

Maurice Pratt is chairman of the European Movement Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Maurice Pratt is chairman of the European Movement Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Tim Martin is founder of the Wetherspoon pub chain and a member of the Vote Leave campaign group Newsdesk Newsdesk

Stay: EU is far from perfect, but we are stronger together

In fewer than nine weeks, on June 23, the people of the UK will be asked one question in the ballot box: 'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?'

While European Movement Ireland is not advocating how people should vote, we are strongly of the belief that a 'Brexit' is in no one's best interest.

A European Union without the UK would be bad for Ireland, bad for Europe and bad for the UK itself. If the UK were to leave, a destabilising period of uncertainty would follow, particularly here in Ireland.

The London School of Economics has stated that Ireland would suffer the largest proportional loss of any country, other than the UK, should a decision to leave occur. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) estimates that trade flows between Ireland and the UK could be reduced on average by 20pc.

With over €1.2bn (and growing) in goods and services traded between our two islands every week, anything that would negatively impact upon the smooth flow of people, goods, services and capital would not be welcome.

A recent Ibec (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) analysis of the consequences of a 'Brexit' for Irish business stated that the sterling/euro exchange rate could fall by between 10pc and 15pc, impacting significantly on Irish firms selling into the UK market. Meanwhile, the IMF has cut Britain's 2016 growth forecast from 2.2pc to 1.9pc, while listing the referendum and its outcome as a key risk to the world economy.

And what of Northern Ireland? As acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Flanagan, pointed out in the Dail last Thursday, a UK withdrawal from the EU could bring into question our shared common travel area. The land border we share with the UK would become an EU external border, potentially undermining the normalisation of good North-South relations that have developed through much hard work and compromise, not least thanks to our common EU membership.

This could also have an impact on tourism, and issues could arise for the energy sector in areas such as security of supply and the single electricity market.

The EU is far from perfect - recent crises have shown us that, and certainly the potential for reform is great. But a decision to leave would arguably lessen British influence on the world stage at a time when it is needed more than ever. It is much better to tackle the global challenges of security and climate change working together, within a reformed EU, than it is to face them alone.

Ireland and the UK are strong allies and close friends at the European table. A UK withdrawal could tilt the European balance of opinion in a way that may not best serve Irish interests.

The risk engendered by a potential unravelling of over 40 years of shared trade deals, market access, consumer protection, workers' rights, human rights, economic growth, peace and prosperity is not something to be taken lightly. But don't just take our word for it - people as diverse as US President Barack Obama, Michael O'Leary, Karren Brady, Arsene Wenger, Bill Gates and Emma Thompson have all spoken out on the benefits of the UK remaining a EU member.

A well-known Irish politician once said that a referendum is a means of getting an answer to a question that wasn't asked. The vote on their continued EU membership is ultimately a decision for the UK electorate. Whatever the outcome, it will be respected.

That said, we in Ireland have a particular interest, a special voice and a unique perspective in this debate.

An estimated 500,000 Irish people based in the United Kingdom are eligible to vote on June 23, as are an estimated 120,000 British-born people living here in the Republic. European Movement Ireland, through our #PhoneAFriend campaign, is urging them to register by the June 7 deadline and have their say on this crucial issue on Thursday, June 23.

Despite the imperfections and frustrations inherent in a community of 28 different member states, we are stronger together.

Maurice Pratt is chairman of the European Movement Ireland

Leave: The EU has now become a threat to democracy itself

The desire for political independence and local democracy is one that can be well understood by anyone from Ireland.

The emotions aroused in Ireland by the centuries-old debate about these issues are starting to be reflected, albeit to a lesser extent, in the current debate about Brexit in the UK.

Many eurosceptics had an open mind about the European project and probably viewed it favourably - before the fiasco of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in the early 1990s.

The idea that European currencies could be fixed together within a narrow band certainly had attractions for many people, but interest rates gradually rose in the two years to September 1992, culminating in levels of 15pc or so, which caused a deep recession and economic chaos. The major banks were in serious trouble, with the mighty Barclays requiring a 'rescue rights issue' and over a million households were plunged into negative equity - anyone who has lived through this sort of experience has no desire to repeat it, needless to say.

Wetherspoon's first entry into any sort of national political or economic debate started in the late 1990s, when the successor to the ERM, the euro, was introduced in Europe and was proposed for the UK.

Having seen the debacle of the collapse of the ERM, Wetherspoon opposed the euro. It was our observation that all the currencies of the world were backed by a single government, except the euro, and this flaw would eventually be fatal. There was no central government to transfer money around the system and no power or consensus to raise the necessary taxes.

The anti-euro campaign won the argument in the UK, in spite of support for the project from the Financial Times, the employers' organisation the CBI, the prime minister and most of the good and the great. I observed at the time that almost all the main political and business advocates of the euro were from an Oxford or Cambridge elite, who seemed to prefer monetary rule from Europe to the democratic control implicit in a state having its own currency.

The debate has moved on in the last decade, with increasing powers being assumed by the less-than-democratic institutions in Brussels.

The judgments of the European Court, made by judges who are not under the democratic control of the peoples of Europe, make up about 50pc or so of the new laws and regulations in the UK each year. Legislation can only be initiated by the unelected European Commission and European members of Parliament are widely regarded, often by themselves, as having minimal control over the law-making process, partially as a result of the remoteness of the whole system from the European public.

The consequent main argument for the Leave campaign is that democracy, prosperity and freedom are all closely linked. Yet EU institutions are slowly removing democracy from member states, so that Greece and Portugal, for example, have lost control of their own budgets, as well as their interest rates, two of the most democratic controls of any parliament.

The Remain campaign, by contrast, focuses on the advantages of a single market and the risks inherent in leaving a 'community' of countries which has been in existence for a considerable time and has coincided with generally rising living standards in the main European economies.

My own view is that a common market is to the benefit of all and that free movement of peoples within the existing countries of Europe has also been a general benefit. However, I strongly believe that democracy is necessary for future prosperity and even survival. Once democratic powers are lost, a sense of alienation and anger invariably follows - history indicates that these emotions can result in the rise of extremist parties and politicians, as we can already see in the European landscape.

So let us have a common market and the free movement of peoples, but let's repatriate the making of laws to national parliaments. Co-operation is great, friendship is great, but let's hold on to democracy with both hands. No taxation

without representation, was the American manifestation of this philosophy a couple of hundred years ago.

Tim Martin is founder of the Wetherspoon pub chain and a member of the Vote Leave campaign group

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