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EU referendum: Five things we learned from The Journal’s debate at Hardwick Hall

With 115 days to go until the EU referendum, The Journal and sister paper The Gazette have held an EU breakfast to debate the UK’s future in Europe.

We were delighted to sponsor this event which saw a panel of business and political experts debate issues around the referendum including exports, immigration and Britain’s place in the world.

Audience members from around the region supplied questions to the panel, which was made up of UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott, Lucy Armstrong from The Alchemists, Entrepreneurs’ Forum chief executive Gillian Marshall, Andrew Saunders from Business for Britain, Square One Law partner Neil Warwick and Dean Turner, UK economist at UBS Wealth Management.

According to The Journal the top five points from the event are as follows:

1. North East businesses want to stay in the EU.

When asked for the voting intentions, 70% of the audience said they wanted to stay in the EU, 14% wanted to leave and 16% were undecided. The sample was by no means representative of the voting public, of course, but is broadly in line with other samples of companies in the region taken by bodies such as the North East Chamber of Commerce, EEF and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

2. Staying in is the most likely result.

Opinion polls are differing widely in their predictions for what will be the result on June 24. Most polls got it pretty wrong when it came to last year’s General Election result, of course, but there appears to be agreement at least that the Brexit campaigners have been increasing their share of the vote. Detailed analysis of polling and other factors by wealth managers UBS reckons the probability of leaving the EU is around 30%, which the firm’s UK economist Dean Turner described as “small but not inconsiderable”.

3. Passions are running high – on both sides.

The debate at yesterday’s event was polite and constructive but panellists left the audience in no doubt how crucial this is. “In” campaigners talked of the damage to the economy and jobs and of the huge unknowns surrounding Brexit. Those favouring leaving the EU talked about how the UK could go it alone to trade more constructively on the global stage.

4. EU jokes are not easy to come by.

In his opening remarks, Journal business editor said that anyone who chose a good honest British bacon sandwich was clearly for Brexit, while those who got a croissant or some muesli were very continental and wanted to stay in. “That joke would have worked a lot better if there had actually been some croissants,” he added. “I told them to get croissants!”

5. Some people ask really good questions. Really good.

The first question to come from the audience went like this: “The IMF, the G20, the CBI, North East Chamber of Commerce, EEF, most big business leaders, most heads of universities, the charities sector and a bunch of retired generals think we should stay in. Why should be trust Boris?” Pity poor Jonathan Arnott, UKIP MEP for the North East, who had to deal with that one (and did so manfully.)

 

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