The European Union is ‘an economic corpse’ and it is time the UK broke free from its shackles, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told a Fylde audience.
A debate on EU membership ahead of June’s in-out referendum attracted an audience of around 300 to Lytham’s Lowther Pavilion and saw Farage go head to head with Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim over what a vote to leave the EU would mean for UK businesses.
The two politicians were joined by regional business leaders, including David Haythornthwaite, owner and chairman of Lytham-based Tangerine Holdings, for the breakfast event held as part of Lytham’s St George’s Day Charity Festival. In backing the ‘Leave’ campaign, both Farage and Haythornthwaite said they felt sovereignty was the key issue of the debate.
“I genuinely believe that nation state democracy is the safest form of government,” said Farage. “The UK needs to be able to look at building its own relationships around the world.
“Only 12 per cent of the UK economy is exporting goods to the EU, yet EU rules apply to 100 per cent. It is not governments which create business, it is consumers – if they like a product, they will buy it.”
Haythornthwaite added: “As members of the EU, we don’t control our own destiny.
“We fought the Second World War against Germany and Japan and yet how many German and Japanese cars do we see around now? It is all down to quality of product.”
But Karim forecast that a vote to leave the EU would result in higher prices.
“Membership of the EU allows us to take products to a much bigger market,” he said.
“Access to a single market is very different to accessing markets through trade agreements. If we were to leave the EU, exports and imports would all go up in price.”
The breakfast debate was chaired by Chris Maguire, editor of BusinessCloud magazine, and featured a panel, including Karim, putting its case for staying in the EU, followed by Farage and fellow panel members, including Haythornthwaite, arguing in favour of an exit.
Two members of each panel were then pitted head to head and Karim summarised the importance of the referendum by saying: “It is a momentous decision we have to make - not just for we Brits but the outcome of the vote will have ramifications right across Europe. If the UK leaves, Europe will be weaker - and a weaker Europe is not in the UK’s interests at all.”
But Farage said he felt a vote to leave by the UK could be just the start as far as EU members are concerned.
“I think if the UK votes to leave, half a dozen countries will be queuing up to hold referendums of their own. Political union does not work for any countries in Europe.”
He added that, with the prospect of more than 500m people being potentially free to come to the UK with EU growth on the table, leaving the Union is the only way to control numbers of immigrants.
But he said it was vital for the Leave campaign that it reflected ‘a broader canvas of voices’ if it was to win the referendum vote on June 23.
“The Leave campaign so far has been dominated by Conservative cabinet members and we have to remember that at the General Election last year, 78 per cent of people didn’t vote Conservative,” said Farage.
“There needs to be a broader canvas of voices, from Labour and other parties across the board - otherwise we will lose.”
Haythornthwaite, founder of Lytham’s St George’s Day Festival, said afterwards: “The turnout was very pleasing and it was a good debate which I think got to the heart of the matter.
“The Brexit vote is the biggest for a generation and will have huge implications for the UK, Europe and the world. St George’s Day Charity Festival is well established and we decided it was the perfect platform to stage a proper debate for and against staying in Europe.”
The debate was switched to Lowther from its originally-intended location of the Grand Marquee set up on Lytham Green for the St George’s Festival because of a long-standing covenant banning political meetings on The Green.
The St George’s Day Festival continues through this weekend, with events including a lunch today, a parade through the streets tomorrow, followed by a black tie dinner and a family fun day on The Green on Sunday.