Stewart Jackson and Daniel Zeichner on the EU referendum

schengen17:46 Friday 15th January 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The EU referendum represents a once in a lifetime decision according to the Chancellor. He says it’s unrealistic to assume the poll will be repeated. Mr Osborne, who describes himself as Eurosceptic, said he was optimistic about reaching a deal on EU reforms. And today the Head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker suggested a deal is likely in February which would allow we’re told a referendum as early as June of this year. So how are our local MPs lining up? I spoke to two of them earlier, Eurosceptic Conservative Stewart Jackson, the MP for Peterborough and Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge. I asked Stewart Jackson first if he believed a vote would come as soon as June.
STEWART JACKSON: As I understand it the Electoral Commission have said that they would like a longer period, because local authorities have to put in place the administrative procedures to make sure that the county goes smoothly. After all, you;’re looking at 46 million people voting in the referendum. For me obviously I’m waiting to see what the Prime Minister comes back with at the end of his negotiations process at the end of next month.
CHRIS MANN: Daniel Zeichner, does June seem likely to you, or is that too soon?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: It’s what we’re hearing, and we’ll do it whenever it comes. We think it’s a distraction from the things that are facing people on a daily basis in a city like Cambridge. I want it over and done with as soon as possible, and confirmed that we’re a strong part of the European Union.
CHRIS MANN: What kind of deal does David Cameron have to come back to the country with in order to make this negotiation worthwhile?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well I doubt whether he’ll come back with a deal which will satisfy some people on the Conservative side. But I think for those of us who absolutely believe that our place is in Europe, we will look for him to get some things to make it easier to win the referendum. But I think he’s set up a false position really. As I say there are plenty of people who will never be satisfied with what he manages to negotiate. I think it’s been a bad mistake by Cameron from the beginning, but this is a campaign that I want to win, and this is one of the few occasions I’ll be on the same side as the Prime Minister.
CHRIS MANN: And the same side as Stewart Jackson? Surely not.
STEWART JACKSON: No. I think Daniel is playing a sticky wicket quite well, because of course as we know at the General Election labour didn’t want to give the people the right to decide the future of their own country with regard to the European Union. It’s only since that they’ve decided very reluctantly that they do. And I think most people are where the Prime Minister is, which is that he’s tried his best to address the issues, that we don’t want further economic and political union, that we do want to protect the City of London, and that above all we want to protect our borders and have sovereignty in our own sovereign national parliament. And if he can achieve that, then I’ll support him. I am dubious, and on that basis I probably will be campaigning very hard to leave the European Union for very many reasons.
CHRIS MANN: The senior politician talking about it today is the Chancellor, saying the Treasury has got its eye on that, but actually ou there amongst the people of Britain it’s not the economics possibly that’s at the forefront of their mind, is it? It’s about migration. it’s about the movement of the people around Europe. And it’s about those headline scenes that we’ve seen, and of course the fear of terrorism now.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: I entirely agree, and I think it’s a very risky thing to do, to go to a referendum. That’s why we have a parliamentary democracy and why we have general elections. But you’re right. I think a lot of people are worried about the migration issues. But actually leaving the European Union won’t solve the migration issues. You can’t get off the planet. The things that are happening in the world would be happening anyway, and I think it’s better that we deal with them in a democratic structured way, in dialogue with our partners in Europe, than just go it alone.
CHRIS MANN: How much is a fear of the unknown going to come into play in this referendum? We saw it happen with Scotland, didn’t we, eighteen months ago? You got to the precipice, you look over, and you don’t fancy the leap.
STEWART JACKSON: No, but I think just to reiterate, these phoney figures of three million jobs at risk which has been the same three million jobs since about 1983, there’ll be a plague of locusts, the economy will fail, it’s just nonsense. And actually the Leave side are about being positive and saying we’re a global trading nation. We existed as a global trading nation before the European Union. And do we really want to lock ourselves in to this high tax, high regulation bureaucracy, which within the next twenty years anyway is going to shrink to only be about one in six dollars of world trade? So we’re positive. We’re not reacting to the negativity of the Remain campaign. But I think you’re right Chris. People will worry about things like culture and immigration, and it’s because of the catastrophic mistake of people like Angela Merkel, disregarding European Union immigration policy and throwing open the doors, which we’re now seeing really was a very bad mistake. And she’s now had to do a U-turn on that issue.
CHRIS MANN: And how are we going to see this play out on the British political stage if you like? because potentially free votes, and politicians from all sides mixing in? How are you going to work that? How are people going to know who to listen to, and does it matter who the alliances are between?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well you’re right. I think the Conservative Party will be fundamentally divided on this. I think the vast majority of the Labour Party ..
CHRIS MANN: Won’t Labour be as well?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: There’s a handful of people, but Labour’s got very clear policy agreed at our conference. I’d say we’re as united on this as on any other subject. (LAUGHS)
CHRIS MANN: Well that’s quite a claim.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: it is quite a claim, but the vast majority of Labour MPs, the vast majority of Labour members, will be campaigning strongly in favour of staying in the European Union. And that’s because we understand that our place is in the world, not stepping back from it. And the big challenges we face, whether it’s environmental issues, whether it’s crime .. we don’t want to give criminals a free pass, we want to be able to go and get them if they’re elsewhere in Europe. These things are positive. It makes us more secure, not less.
STEWART JACKSON: Well it’s grudging, isn’t it, because basically Labour’s position hitherto has always been when there’s an election to promise a treaty like they did with the Lisbon Treaty, a referendum. They set their face against that, and they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to this position that they’re at now, which is to trust the British people. We haven’t had a vote. You’ve got to be almost 60 since you last had a vote on our future and the European Union. Labour would sign up to anything. This at least is going to be a proper comprehensive fact-based debate. And I think it’s an opportunity to put party politics aside, put the country first, but we are a global trading nation, we’re a proud sovereign nation, and that we can survive outside the European Union. There will be alliances in different ways. There are very good local Labour MPs like Kelvin Hopkins who are Eurosceptics. There are others on my side of the aisle in the Conservative Party who are good Europhiles and very pro-European Union. It will be a good debate, but at the end of the day it’s about trusting the British people.
CHRIS MANN: Cambridgeshire is relatively well-off as we know in the UK. It’s a real powerhouse of the British economy. One of the most important research and development centres in Cambridgeshire of course is at the University, and that voice has been very strong pro-Europe. They say that it would be disastrous for the University if we left. How do you answer them?
STEWART JACKSON: Well they are vested interests. They’re important vested interests, but there are other businesses across the Eastern region and across Cambridgeshire who say that the weight of regulation, of bureaucracy in the European Union, the difficulties for exporting and dealing with other countries within the Union and particularly outside of the European Union makes it difficult for them to trade. So there will be a plethora of different views. Remember we actually have a trade deficit with the European Union and a big trade surplus with the rest of the world. So business will be important, but ultimately it will be people thinking about their future, their jobs, their prosperity, their families’ future in an independent country.
DANIEL ZIECHNER: But it’s not just the universities, it’s all the businesses around the universities. I was at one of the high tech businesses just this time last week, and they were explaining to me exactly why it is so important. And it’s not just the money that comes from Europe, and a lot does come back for research. But it’s the networks, the relationships with universities in Europe, which they are absolutely certain would be put at risk and in their view lost, as a consequence of leaving the European Union. So both universities, not just the University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin as well, absolutely clear. And there are tens and tens of thousands of jobs that depend on those universities. They’re not a vested interest. They’re the heart of Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: Final question gentlemen, and that is if you had to pick one line, one slogan, one reason for people to vote your way, what would it be? Stewart Jackson first.
STEWART JACKSON: We’re a proud global trading nation. We get on with Europe. But we believe that we should run our own country and be responsible for its future.
CHRIS MANN: Daniel Zeichner.
DANIEL ZIECHNER: Properity, security, fairness, those are the issues that make it important for us to stay in.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for Cambridge, and Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, debating the EU referendum. Suggestions today it might happen as early as June.