Spectator Brexit debate

The Spectator Brexit debate was held at the London Palladium on 26 April, chaired by Andrew Neil.

The lineup: Danniel Hannan MEP (Con), Nigel Farage MEP (Ukip) and Kate Hoey MP (Lab) for Leave vs Nick Clegg MP (Lib), Liz Kendall MP (Lab) and Chuka Umunna MP (Lab) for Remain.

The debate is available here:


You can watch the whole thing, or individual speeches, or read a summary. I recommend watching the whole debate.

It seems to me nearly all the points raised by Remain were answered by the speakers for Leave, so I do not have much to add except the observation that the Remain side seemed to rely heavily on metaphors. Try counting them.

From “pulling up the drawbridge” to having an “open” or “closed” future, or “working hand in glove with our nearest neighbours” and “being connected”. It is easy to see that many of these metaphors can be turned around to support Leave just as easily as Remain. Farage and Hannan could have said (and very nearly did) that we need to “open” the door to the rest of the world and escape the “closed” customs union of the EU. That is why I don’t tend to think of political questions in terms of metaphors, and distrust those who do.

The arguments on the Leave side were more concrete. Whether a practical matter, such as our ability to control our borders, or a matter of principle such as being able to vote out those who make our laws, the Leave speakers were clear what they were talking about and had facts to back them up. Is it just me who sees this difference in the way the two sides present their case?

It is not that it is necessarily wrong to appeal to emotion in a political argument. We should, I think, have a positive emotional reaction to the idea being a free and democratic country, and a negative one towards losing that freedom. What I distrust is trying to conjure an emotion from a negative image – such as drawing up a drawbridge, or slamming a door – which has no connection to the actual facts of the case.

Only Chuka Umunna managed to get away with few substantive points the other side did not have time to refute.

Chuka: Does NATO membership diminish our control of our own affairs? Not at all. As for sovereignty, if you took the Leave campaigners argument, the most sovereign nation in the world would probably be North Korea – because they don’t work with anyone.

But membership of NATO, the UN or any other international body does not involve giving up, “sharing”  or “pooling” sovereignty in the way that the EU requires of its members. There is no NATO court that can overrule the supreme courts of the United States or the United Kingdom. There is no NATO court full stop. NATO is a treaty between sovereign independent nations. It does not interfere in their internal affairs, or have the power to force them to do anything.

In fact the comparison serves to highlight what a strange beast the EU is. No other trade block, or international body of any kind that I am aware of, claims the power to make laws that directly overrule the domestic laws of its members. Working with other nations is what we want. Being controlled by a supra-national unelected bureaucracy is what we want to end.

Chuka: we export 44% of our goods to the EU.

Someone (I think it was Andrew Neil) pointed out that the figure used to be 55% in 2002. They are both wrong. In 2014 the UK exported 229bn in goods and services to the EU. This was 44% of the UKs exports, but only 13.5% of UK GDP. So that is the proportion of everything we produce that goes to the EU. The figure would be a bit more for goods alone, but not by much.

People who quibble over a few percentage points are missing the big picture. The point is that only about 30% of the goods and services we produce in the UK is exported anywhere. The other 70% is sold and consumed entirely within the UK. It is only 44% of 30% that goes to the EU, yet 100% of our businesses, large and small, must comply with 100% of EU laws and regulations, whether they export to the EU, to the US or to nowhere (the majority). We are allowing the tail to wag the dog.