Farage managed single-handedly to sway the vote in their favour on what appeared to be some rather shaky facts
I’ve always considered myself a strong Europhile; I lived for nearly ten years in the Netherlands and Belgium, I speak five languages (badly) and of course I’m madly in love with a Frenchman, but when it comes to the question of Britain remaining in EU, I have always sat on the fence.
So in a bid to stir my awakening conscience Mr Legris took me to the latest of the Intelligence Squared debate last week. The motion “Both Britain and the EU would be happier if they got divorced” was proposed by Nigel Farage EMP, leader of UKIP, and Daniel Hannan MEP, while the speakers against were Katinka Barysch, deputy director for the centre of European Reform, and Lord Brittan, the ex-Home Secretary.
The last time I had met Leon Brittan was at a cocktail party in Chelsea. I was a music student in Maastricht and had offered him my sofa-bed in the spare room for when he was next in town, having no idea who he was. My mother was mortified but I like to think he was rather tickled by the idea.
The pre-vote taken among the obediently queuing English in the lobby of Cadogan Hall showed 30 per cent for the motion and 43 per cent against. While Mr Legris and I stood at the side of the entrance to the main hall, a few others joined and soon a small non-queuing mass of people had gathered.
Pictured above: Nigel Farage speaking at the Intelligence Squared debate on the EU
This provoked much tutting and seemed to highlight a distinct cultural difference between the Brits and the non Brits. 'Oh, how you British love to queue,' said Mr Legris. I agreed with him: 'Yes, I quite often join a queue when I see one, particularly when I don’t know what it is for.'
I WOULDN'T DESCRIBE myself as a politically-minded person but what struck me during the debate was the frightening malleability of the middle class, intelligent audience who make up the backbone of the IQ2 audience.
I can only describe Nigel Farage’s passionate delivery as Daily Mail scaremongering tactics as he whipped up the fear latent during uncertain times and managed single-handedly to sway the vote in their favour on what appeared to be some rather shaky facts. Of course we don’t want to be robbed in the streets and I see more beggars in London than ever before but my fear is not immigration but of the reaction to it.
As the great-great-granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, I don’t need to remind anyone what could be around the corner. Immigration of course is of massive concern, particularly when Bulgarians and Romanians will able to travel and settle freely within the EU.
Farage claims it is because of the EU they would be allowed to settle here (true) but also to claim benefit, housing and free health care? No, because in light of new proposals by David Cameron Britain will restrict benefits with jobseeker allowance removed after six months and access to a council house only possible after a two year stay.
There seemed to be a lot of myths banded about by Farage during this debate, particularly about the EFTA and the initial role of the EU. Many of these were tackled by a calm and cerebral Lord Brittan who took great pains to explain that being part of the EU gave Great Britain much-needed clout in any international business negotiations and without our membership we as a nation would dwindle and be reduced to a forgotten isolated land.
Try as he might, it seemed his wealth of experience as Home Secreatary and Vice President of the European Commission fell on deaf ears, so much so that the result was an astounding 48 per cent for the motion and 47 per cent against.
SO, WHAT IS the answer? Perhaps we should move to Scotland which could in its new proposed status as an independent country join the euro and French-Scottish relations can blossom as they did in the sixteenth century.
As Mr Legris astutely commented, the motion should be “Britain and the EU should get divorced but still sleep together on the weekends.” How very French.
A transmission of this debate can be seen on BBC World News on 6 and 7 April