‘Migrants driving Brexit debate, not economy’

British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the attendees during the session "Britain in the World" during the Annual Meeting 2016 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland January 21, 2016. © Ruben Sprich
Pro-Brussels politicians claim EU membership is profitable for Britain, while Euroskeptics say David Cameron is unlikely to push through reforms beneficial to the UK, and it might lose its influence within the union.

Political analyst Mohammed Ansar and Robert Oulds from the Bruges Group debate the possibility of Britain leaving the EU.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos said he wants to agree on reforms with Brussels next month, which are needed to keep the UK a member of the EU. However, he added that he is “not in a hurry” and it will happen only if there is “a good deal on the table.” Meanwhile, EU leaders like French PM Manuel Valls described a Brexit as the worst case scenario.

Political analyst Mohammed Ansar and Robert Oulds from the Bruges Group

RT: Cameron stressed he's not in a hurry to sign a deal, but doesn't he need to push through EU reforms quickly to win over the public?

Robert Oulds: David Cameron can’t push through any reforms, he can’t change the EU, because it needs the consent of all the other EU leaders; it needs the consent of the European parliament. Any changes to the treaties must be ratified by every single member-state, and there may have to be a referendum in certain countries, particularly Ireland, and perhaps even Denmark.

What David Cameron is likely to do is sign up to an EU deal, which would have Britain as a second-class member of the EU. We wouldn’t be in the core; we would lose influence in the EU, but still have many of the existing obligations. He cannot force the EU to change one iota. He doesn’t have the power, because the EU is an undemocratic institution, which is often in deadlock when it comes to treaty change. One member-state cannot push through changes; it all needs to be agreed unanimously.

RT: Mohammed what do you feel about this?

Mohammed Ansar: This is typical Neanderthal, anti-EU, anti-immigrant, anti-worker, in fact anti-British interest. These are the typical kind of arguments that come from the hard-right, because they are fearful of what it might mean if we stay in. The European project ultimately was one which was about a social project, an economic project, one about trade and business. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said that we may lose over two percent of Britain’s GDP permanently. The CBI [Confederation of British Industry] said the benefits of the EU relate to around between four to five per cent of our GDP; that’s about £78 billion a year.

RT: What about those people who say that with Brexit, Britain could save billions of pounds in all of the contributions to Brussels? Isn't this a major factor?

MA: You’ve got to look at the likes of Nigel Farage, you’ve to look at the likes of the Bruges Group, and UKIP [The UK Independence Party], who make wildly inflated comments about what they think will be saved. Sometimes their figures are out by twice as much. It is effectively like saying: “Well, if we give up our house, we won’t have to pay mortgage.” Yes, you will also have nowhere to live. I think this is a kind of scandalous short-sightedness. Don’t forget, what is driving the Brexit debate at the minute – migrants and refugees. They’ve given up making the arguments on the economics; they have given up the argument on trade and industry, when you’ve even got the CBI against you.

Robert Oulds: Well, it is really astounding that anybody who criticizes the EU is met with abuse. I just think that goes to show their mindset, how they don’t really care about what British people think, or even Europeans think, when the project of European integration is questioned. The EU is a political project to amass power around central institutions. You only have to go back and read what was said by Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman. That was the idea, it wasn’t about a trading group; it was about taking power from member-states, from national governments and amassing it within the… institutions of the EU and wisely to govern the great unwashed as they saw it. That is what the project is about. We’re just seeing again how they have contempt for those who misrepresent their arguments…

© Luke MacGregor

RT: Wouldn't losses from abandoning free trade be a major hit?

RO: We don’t have free trade with the EU; we’re in a customs union. If we were outside the EU we could still have access to the single market. Other countries do. China has far more access to the single market than even the UK does. They sell more to the single market, excluding Britain, than the EU does, as does the US. It is absolutely false to suggest that if Britain was outside the EU, we wouldn’t be able to trade with them. Trade would continue, because we are mutually reliant on trade. We do not have to be part of a political union governed by the institutions in Brussels to buy and sell goods to people and other businesses in the EU…

Actually, the countries outside of the EU, such as Switzerland and Norway have far more FDI (foreign direct investment) than members of the EU. There is great deal of evidence to suggest that if we were outside we would get more investment, because we would be able to manage our own economy as we saw fit rather than being dictated to by the institutions of the EU, people that we haven’t been elected.

MA: This is fear mongering and peddling myths. Look, we have the London School of Economics, we have the CBI. Don’t get me wrong, the CBI is pretty Euroskeptic… We’ve got the CBI; we’ve got the LSC [London School of Commerce]. The CBI says that the benefits of the EU membership - in 2013 they did a study of studies – they summarized all of the studies and said, as it currently stands: “The net benefit is £78 billion a year.”

RT: What about migrants? According to a lot of officials, the UK cannot deal with the number of immigrants flooding into the country.

MA: There is no easy way to tackle the issue of migrants and refugees. But firstly, let’s make one thing clear: the European project was to effectively give freedom of movement of workers, trade, services, people, money. This was something that ushered in an unparalleled period of peace in Europe after WWII and took us beyond the Cold War. If people want us to retrench into a Cold War situation, then people are going absolutely in the right direction if they want to increase tensions.

All of the research in the UK, whether research for the Treasury, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the IPP - they all say that there is an overwhelming benefits to migrants to the UK economy.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.