An MEP and a former member of the Strasbourg Parliament have debated the pros and cons of staying in the EU at a meeting in Grantham.
Emma McClarkin, MEP for the East Midlands, and Bill Newton Dunn, an MEP until 2014, locked horns on the subject of Europe in front of an audience of more than 60 people in the council chamber on St Peter’s Hill on Friday.
The debate was organised by district and county councillor Ray Wootten under the banner ‘The Big EU debate - You decide’.
Ms McClarkin says she wants Britain out of the EU to which she was voted in in 2009 as the youngest British MEP.
Mr Newton Dunn says Britain must stay in. He was a Conservative MEP for Lincolnshire from 1979 to 1994. In 2000 he defected to the Liberal Democrats and was an MEP for the East Midlands from 2004 until 2012.
Ms McClarkin told the meeting the EU is intent on political integration and has forgotten its intended purpose which is free trade. She said: “It was first about creating jobs and reducing trade barriers and it should be focussing on that. It is interfering in every aspect of our lives.”
Ms McClarkin added that Britain should be determining its own laws and outside the EU “there is a much more prosperous future ahead of us”.
Mr Newton Dunn, of the Stronger In group, said Britain needed to be part of a united Europe in order to have an influence on the world stage and to compete with the likes of emerging economic powers such as China and India.
He said: “We need to work together if we are going to get our voice heard vis-a-vis China, the US etc. Westminster has very little control over what happens outside our borders and many things that do affect us are outside our borders.”
Mr Newton Dunn said to leave the EU and go it along was an “horrific gamble” and a lot of banks and companies would leave the UK. He said the UK would have to renegotiate agreements with other countries “at enormous economic damage to the country”.
Asked if Britain can really survive outside the EU, Ms McClarkin said the UK was the fifth largest economy in the world. She said: “We will survive because people are coming to us saying we want to a deal with you.” She said many of Britain’s ‘natural’ trading partners in Asia, Australia, the US and Canada wanted to work with the UK.
On the issue of immigration, Mr Newton Dunn said this was the biggest problem we face. He said more and more immigrants were likely to head for Europe in the future from Africa and the Middle East. He said Britain and Europe faced an “unprecedented challenge” and the UK needed to work with Europe to solve the problem of immigration.
Ms McClarkin said 751 MEPs representing 500 million people could not be called democracy. She described it as a “joke”.
At the end of the meeting a vote was taken. Only a few hands were raised by those who wished to stay in the EU. The vast majority of the audience voted to leave the EU.
Coun Wootten said he was very pleased with the turnout. He said the debate had given people the chance to make up their own minds on how to vote in the referendum on June 23.