17:21 Thursday 28th January 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: A new cross-party organisation to campaign for the UK to stay in the EU will launch at this time just tomorrow. Cambridge for Europe argues the case for continued membership of the EU, in preparation for the referendum which is expected to be later this year, perhaps as early as June. Supporters include Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, his predecessor Julian Huppert, who is a LibDem, and the Conservative peer Lord Balfe, as well as the Chair of Cambridge LibDems, Mark Argent, who joins me now. Mark, hello to you.
MARK ARGENT: Nice to meet you.
CHRIS MANN: Tell us, why is it important to have this organisation campaigning?
MARK ARGENT: I think the UK’s future is very much to be at the heart of Europe, leading change there, rather than running away. That matters for our prosperity and our cultural survival, and also how we compete on the world stage, with countries like China and Brazil growing much bigger.
CHRIS MANN: And will you be making specific arguments for Cambridgeshire to stay in the EU, arguments that are relevant to this part of the world?
MARK ARGENT: I think the whole Cambridge region, so the city and the whole area around it, draws a huge amount from being in the European Union. And that’s partly about just general trade with the rest of the Single Market. It’s about investment in the universities, and research and business coming out of that.
So you’re going to go on a platform and say all those tens of thousands that are coming, moving around, those economic migrants, they can come here no problem?
CHRIS MANN: OK. Well I’m sure you’ll have many debates over the next months. We don’t yet know when the referendum will be, but your first one is right now ..
MARK ARGENT: Thank you.
CHRIS MANN: .. because we’re going to bring in somebody from UKIP, because UKIP will be leading the anti-Europe campaign in this part of the world. And a senior official with them is Nick Clarke, a former of course Conservative Leader of the County Council. Nick Clarke, hello.
NICK CLARKE: Good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Will there be a Cambridge against Europe coalition announced too?
NICK CLARKE: Well I think first of all I’m a little disappointed with this new group to be honest. It’s a bit disappointing title. It’s not about Cambridge for Europe. They really ought to call them selves Cambridge for the EU. And one of the tricks we hear all the time is this transposition between the word Europe and the EU. There are 51 states in Europe. There are 28 countries in the EU , of which only 19 use the Euro. It’s daft to think we’re not going to be part of Europe. We want to be. Are we going to have a group of people, a campaign to come out? Of course we are. And UKIP will be at the very front of that.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Is that just semantics mark, or is he making a good point?
MARK ARGENT: I think it’s a bit of semantics. We’re drawing on our common European heritage, and the European Union is by far the largest proportion of the continent. Of course there are countries queueing up wanting to join the European Union.,Turkey is the obvious big example, which says something about how much they think it’s worth being part of this organisation.
CHRIS MANN: But there are others of course who are not in it and haven’t bothered to apply, Switzerland being one of them. Right at the very centre, you couldn’t get much more than the heart of Europe.
MARK ARGENT: (LAUGHS) And of course Switzerland has its long heritage of trying to remain neutral, but also some delicate conversations about closer ties with the European Union.
CHRIS MANN: Doesn’t it speak volumes for the strength of this movement Nick Clarke, that they have people from all parties in this Cambridge for Europe coalition?
NICK CLARKE: Well I’m not sure that’s strictly true. I notice that Lord Balfe, a friend of mine, is there, but of course he was a Labour MEP for about twenty years before crossing the floor to join the Conservatives.
CHRIS MANN: Well you know all about crossing the floor of course, having done it several times.
NICK CLARKE: (LAUGHS) Well that’s why I’m commenting on it now. But look, let’s be clear about what this referendum is really about. It is not a choice between leaving the EU or remaining in the EU as it is now. The EU is on an unstoppable journey towards the ever-close political and economic union that it desires. We see it openly now. We talk about the federal state in its own right. And this challenges the very being of our country, because there are several issues here. There’s democratic accountability. There’s the uncontrolled EU migration, which we hear about on a daily basis. And the loss of sovereignty. And that’s before you get into the economic argument.
CHRIS MANN: Well let’s deal with the most controversial at the moment Mark Argent, and that is the continuing problems with migration, talk about closing borders. Even between Denmark and Sweden they’re already doing that as you know, and elsewhere great concern. Even Germany under pressure. They’re thinking of giving money to other countries to help them stop people coming to their country. How are you going to counter those arguments? What are you going to say to people?
MARK ARGENT: I think that’s bringing several things together which actually need to be kept separate. One is the free movement of people within the European Union, and that’s very much about a closer integration of our economies, letting us co-operate and work together.
CHRIS MANN: So you want people to move around do you, still?
MARK ARGENT: In the same way that we’ve got.
CHRIS MANN: So you’re going to go on a platform and say all those tens of thousands that are coming, moving around, those economic migrants, they can come here no problem?
MARK ARGENT: I think we’ve got two different categories of migrant going on.
CHRIS MANN: Can you just answer that question. Are you going to do that? Is that on your platform?
MARK ARGENT: Absolutely.
CHRIS MANN: OK. But some might think that’s political suicide.
MARK ARGENT: On the contrary. We’ve got almost as many Brits living in the rest of the European Union as from the rest of the European living in this country. But that says omething about how we as a country are gaining from that free movement.
CHRIS MANN: OK. What about the idea of sovereignty? And again people increasingly talking about the human rights issues for instance, and the European courts, and how they overrule things that are happening in Britain. What’s your argument against that?
MARK ARGENT: I seem to recall the European Convention on Human Rights was mostly drafted by British lawyers. It’s a set of values which we very much subscribe to. The Human Rights Act was actually a way of bringing that into British law, which makes it much easier to bring legal action to enforce it.
CHRIS MANN: And if there aren’t open borders, then what’s the point of the EU?
MARK ARGENT: What you’re thinking about in terms of temporary closure of borders is simply a response to the huge amounts of migration that’s happening from outside the European Union, because of the Syria crisis.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Give us one big reason why the campaign for Cambridge to be in Europe should continue, should be successful>
MARK ARGENT: I think we would stand to lose a huge amount economically if we left.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Nick Clarke, too much to lose to leave.
NICK CLARKE: Well that’s just a nonsense, and it’s been peddled around since about the year 2000. It is a nonsense. I understand why those that work within the University would have a close eye on the £1 billion of funding that comes into this country for the universities from the EU. But let’s not be grateful for that, because it’s a result of for every pound that we give to the Eu, we get forty nine pence back.
CHRIS MANN: Well the Vice Chancellor himself was on this programme last year, Boris, to say that he was going to be campaigning for Europe as it’s put by these people, that the University can’t afford to leave Europe.
NICK CLARKE: Well that’s because it only sees the funding that comes from the EU. But let me tell you now, this Government or any government that took us out of the EU can quite easily spend each of its pounds that it gives to the EU at the moment to protect our universities, to protect or restore our fishing rights, to protect our farmers. That isn’t talked about. receiving fifty nine pence every time I give you a pound Chris wouldn’t make me happy, I have to say.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Mark Argent, give us one more reason finally, last answer, for the University. Nick Clarke says there we could find clients and find partners elsewhere. Why is Europe so important?
MARK ARGENT: Because actually the targeting fo money into universities has been targeted very much on things which actually develop our economy. So we’re seeing the fruit of that in all the high tech businesses around Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Thank you gentlemen for joining me. That’s Mark Argent who is the Chair of Cambridge LibDems, and who’s part of this Cambridge for Europe campaign, which gets underway tomorrow. We also heard from Nick Clarke, former Conservative Leader of the County Council, now with UKIP of course.