A Conversation with Malcolm Harbour

On 24 February 2016, Pro Europa hosted an event with Malcolm Harbour, a former Conservative MEP. During his time as an MEP he was Chairman of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee and Vice President of the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Foresight Panel. He was a key player in shaping policies and legislation for the single market, manufacturing industry, the digital economy, research and consumer protection. He was appointed a CBE for services to the UK economy in 2013.

In his speech, Malcolm provided the audience with an insightful understanding into the currently differing views within the Conservative Party regarding the upcoming referendum and also provided the audience with advice on the key areas to focus on when campaigning to promote the benefits of the EU, as well as his personal views of Britain's relationship with the EU.

Primarily Malcolm focused on the recent European Council summit which resulted in David Cameron acquiring a deal on the UK's relationship with the EU, and the subsequent division within the Conservative Party. Malcolm offered a confident and positive view that now that David Cameron is very much on board the campaign to remain, this will have a profound effect on the voters. Malcolm highlighted that David Cameron is best when he has to campaign and fight his corner and he is confident that the majority of the Conservative voters will vote to remain. Moreover Malcolm drew cross parallels with the 1975 EU referendum (which was also coincidentally the first major campaign he partook in) as during the 1975 campaign there was a great divide amongst the Labour Party who were in government at that time, however like the current campaign, the polls began in favour of the “remain” side and in the end the UK did vote to remain. Malcolm thus provided the audience with some hope and optimism that things could go this way again.


Malcolm then continued to provide an insight into how the UK works with the EU. He dismissed the key argument of the Leave side that the EU diminishes the UK sovereignty and that the UK has to do what the EU says. Conversely Malcolm accentuated the importance of UK ministers being able to advocate for their country, and not simply agree with the majority within EU ministerial meetings. He highlighted the importance of having more engaged and experienced Ministers in European affairs who can assist the Stronger In campaign in the UK against British MPs who have limited knowledge as to the working methods of the EU. He encouraged campaigners to utilise facts to show how influential the UK has been in shaping the EU, for example in the areas of telecoms, energy and the single market. Furthermore he highlighted that there is a common misperception that the European Commission controls everything, when in reality it is the European Council who has the final decision. Malcolm also drew attention to the Leave side’s argument that the UK has been outvoted 72 times in 20 years in the Council, nevertheless the more important question is how any times has the UK won a vote. Malcolm’s estimate was that in 20 years this would surely be around 72,000 times. Malcolm encouraged the audience to utilise facts like these to campaign positively and effectively.


Subsequently, Malcolm tackled the topic of Trade, and the Leave side's proposal that they only wish to be a part of a Europe of trade. He highlighted that the word “trade” is inadequate to cover the European single market, which is in itself the largest regional institution in the world. Malcolm disagreed with the Leave side’s proposal that we are better outside the single market and that we can formulate new trade agreements. Instead Malcolm highlighted that if MPs think that the Commission takes a long time to negotiate trade agreements, it will certainly be a great deal longer if we had to do this ourselves as a sole state. To emphasise this point, he gave the example of the TTIP negotiations and the length of time TTIP is currently taking with the USA, and made the point if it is this complex and long for the USA to collaborate with the EU, imagine how long it would take if the UK wished to establish a trade agreement with the USA. Moreover he highlighted that China would also only wish to trade with supranational powers and not small and singular states. Therefore Malcolm is wholly unconvinced that the UK could successfully and efficiently establish trade deals as a sole state.


Malcolm finished his speech by accentuating key points to focus on during campaigning such as the fact that within the Single Market the UK has limited regulations and that it is not the EU imposing decisions on Member States but the Member States making the decisions. He also added that it is crucial for it to be both a grassroots and a populous campaign in order to engage as many people as possible. He also highlighted that the Leave campaign do not provide any new stories - Farage has been saying the same thing for the last 5 years. He predicts that the Leave Campaign are currently drafting a solid proposal of how the UK could survive without the EU. To combat the Leave Side it will be necessary to use hard facts about the future and what interesting and new benefits will arise form the EU. He made the point that as the single market is not complete yet 3 trillions euros remains which is unexplored and meant for the single market. There is therefore great economic potential within the single market, which the UK could take advantage of and benefit from.


Within his concluding remarks Malcolm highlighted that it is probable that a new Scottish referendum would be called if England votes to leave and Scotland votes to stay. With regards to immigration, Malcolm accentuated that we are not in Schengen so we can patrol our borders and that free movement of people is crucial to the campaign. He also stated that now is not the time to go against globalisation,it is best to work with neighbours against the security crisis: “Connection is everything in a modern world, why should Britain become disconnected in a connected world.” Finally he finished by stating that “Britain is good for Europe and Europe is good for Britain.” The UK is a key player within the partnership so why should we leave and no longer have the power to negotiate.

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