On the eve of what is a crucial vote to decide whether the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, Tregernomics looks back at interviewees’ opinions on the subject. The answers are ordered from oldest to the most recent. Click the link on the name of the interviewee to read their full interview.
Lord (Anthony) St. John – 23rd December 2014
I should declare my interests right from the start: that I am pro-Europe. I think it is in our interests that Britain is part of the European Union: we have a population of barely 65 million, and we have a European Union which has in excess of half a billion people. Europe is a complicated issue. It is complicated because many people don’t understand the exigencies of the membership rules. It’s complicated because we have different cultures. It’s a very new concept. I think business wants to be part of Europe, and I think the public are increasingly scared of being a member of Europe, and I’m not entirely convinced that a referendum is the best way to decide whether we should be in or out of the European Union.
Lord (Robin) Renwick – 17th March 2015
I am a director of a think tank called Open Europe. We fight against overregulation, which is the absolute bane and could be the death of the European Union. For instance, for asset managers here, there’s a deluge of new regulations, which could cause some of them to move offshore, i.e. move outside Europe. Now this is a disaster, and I was Thatcher’s negotiator in Europe, so I know how the Commission operates. And we did succeed in getting a huge correction to the British budgetary contribution. But the Commission is a regulatory machine: it just goes on churning out regulation. And it used to be under some type of control by the European Council, but not any longer. The Commission regards itself as the European government. It will go on producing evermore regulation. The result is a Europe where you have huge youth unemployment: we have twenty million people unemployed across Europe, and that’s partly overregulation, it’s partly the effect of the Euro on the weaker Eurozone member states, i.e. deflation. Within this think tank, we are trying to get reform, we are trying to get deregulation, especially for small and medium sized businesses, which is where all the jobs are created. And if we can do that, we will say, right, better off staying in. If we can’t get any reform, people are going to have to consider whether there is a risk of another lost decade: for ten years, the European economy stagnated. Europe used to be an example to the world. It’s now regarded as an example of what not to do. So we have to see what the evolution is going to be over the next several years. If there’s a willingness to push the frontiers of the Euro-state back, it’s fine to stay in, if there is no willingness to do that, it becomes more problematic for us over time: do you want to be locked into a stagnant economic zone?
Lord (Norman) Lamont – 22nd October 2015
I have said that I will make up my mind after I see the terms of the renegotiation. I would prefer to have a substantially renegotiated relationship between the UK and the EU. We will have to see what happens. I don’t myself believe that it is impossible for Britain to prosper outside the EU. I think that would be possible. But we will have to see what comes out of the renegotiations.
Lord Lamont later decided to support leaving the EU: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35702830
John Redwood MP – 19th January 2016
I want us to leave because I think we do not agree with the main purposes of the modern European Union. The modern European Union, as the name describes, wishes now to make rapid progress towards creating the United States of Europe. The central feature of the European Union scheme today is membership of the Euro currency. All countries are either in it, or will join it, with the exceptions of Denmark and the United Kingdom. It will become increasingly difficult to be a Euro out member of the European Union, with no intention of joining.
Another feature of the Union is the free movement of people and the wish to have border controls at the Union level. The United Kingdom has resisted part of this and still has its own border controls. It is quite obvious from our current political debate that there is very little support for the idea of creating a single external border and being part of the general moving of peoples within a larger country. Europe will want to have a strong common foreign policy and defence policy, and again, the United Kingdom is very reluctant to surrender her independent seat on the Security Council to pool all her weapons systems with continental countries and to accept the commonality of action, which will be expected or required in due course. So, I think when you’re in a club and it has a series of aims which are no longer your aims, the honest and decent thing to do is to admit that and to leave. In a way, we joined what we thought was a cricket club, a trading body, and now there’s compulsory rugby, and compulsory soccer, and compulsory swimming, and we don’t want to do any of those things and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify either the club’s subscription or membership.
Lord (Peter) Chadlington – 8th February 2016
I think that the UK should stay in the European Union, largely because I believe that the alternative is an even greater unknown. It’s like getting divorced: it’s better to know your wife and realise her shortcomings, and for your wife to know your shortcomings, than to set off down the road, marry somebody else, but then find that the problems are even worse. So I believe that we made a commitment; I would stay with it in this particular marriage, and I would continue to try and make it better, which I think is exactly what the Prime Minister is doing.
Lady (Barbara) Judge – 21st February 2016
I don’t support [leaving]. I think if I had a free choice when we entered [the European Union], I probably would have voted against it, because I think it has given us a great deal of overregulation which makes business less competitive. However, it’s there, and it’s not going away. I believe that once there is a club we should be in it, and I think that we should have a strong role in it, so that we can affect policy and make Europe as a whole more competitive.
Sir Martin Sorrell – 26th May 2016
Well I’m an ‘Innie’ as opposed to an ‘Outie’, and if you look at the debate, it has three elements. The first is an economic argument, and I think even the ‘Outies’ acknowledge that the economic consequences, certainly in the short to medium term, are going to be pretty horrendous if we come out. I was talking to somebody who has retired from the civil service about the administrative consequences of coming out. He told me there are very few people, if any, in the UK who have the expertise on trade negotiation; there might be ten people. Also, we have lost all the infrastructure that has surrounded our civil service and government: we effectively outsourced it, so it’s going to take ten years to put that infrastructure back and renegotiate all of those agreements. So, I think it’s quite clear that the growth rate of the British economy would be lowered if we left. The second argument is one of sovereignty, and I have some sympathy with this: we may lose our sovereignty if we remain. Having said that, I think we’re better off being inside the tent trying to argue the case, rather than outside. We will lose more being on the outside than we will being inside. So, I would say that’s two ticks to the ‘Innies’. The third issue is extremely difficult to argue, and in fact people avoid arguing it; however, in the last day or so it has reared its head again with pictures of migrant boats capsizing and to some extent the French riots that were connected to the new labour laws. I am referring, of course, to the issue of immigration, and because it is emotional, it is a difficult thing for people to get their heads around. I’m quite clear on this: I’ve had two discussions with Iain Duncan Smith and Norman Lamont about the question ‘Do immigrants make a net contribution to the economy?’ They say no. I disagree violently, probably because I am a second generation immigrant and it’s an emotional thing. My paternal grandparents came from Russia; my maternal grandparents were from Poland and Romania, so I do think that immigrants make a contribution – this is actually demonstrated by financial analysis. So when I tot all that up, and I tot up the economics; when I tot up the sovereignty issue, and I tot up the immigration issue, I think there’s a clear case for staying in. A lot of older people don’t hold that view, and a lot of women I’m told from our polling remain undecided, just like we saw with the Scottish referendum. A lot of young people are in favour of remaining, but the question is: are they going to come out and vote for it? It’s quite clear in my own mind that the future of Britain is better inside Europe than outside.