IMMIGRATION, national security, workers’ rights and whether reform of Europe is possible were some of the key topics raised at tonight’s EU News hustings.
The public got the chance to speak up and grill a panel of experts over which way the result of the referendum over Britain’s future in the EU should go come June 23.
The debate, held by The News and Verisona Law at 1000 Lakeside North Harbour, Portsmouth, was a lively affair. Talk began over employment rights.
Councillor John Ferrett, Labour group leader, praised the EU’s working time directive controlling the number of hours employees work.
But Councillor Donna Jones, leader of the city council, said it should be British parliament which decided how industry is managed and not Brussels.
And Ian Brown, south-east chairman of Business for Britain, said his 47 workers have opted out of the deal as it ‘takes away their choice’ to work longer and weekends.
But Lib Dem councillor Hugh Mason said the UK exercises ‘flexibility’ as an EU member to help workers and dismissed any suggestion the EU had a ‘dictatorial approach’. Over reform, Tory councillor and VoteLeave coordinator for Portsmouth North Jim Fleming said: ‘How do we get reform? We won’t.
‘We can negotiate as much as we like, David Cameron can say he has tried, but he hasn’t. He has in his back pocket all of these promises, and we know EU promises always fail.’
Brexit said the public had little understanding of the EU and what it does.
But the Remain camp said ‘negotiation’ to ensure a better deal was important and it was better to lobby for change while having a ‘seat at the table’.
Stamshaw resident John Cass asked whether the UK could take more immigrants. Kevin Briscoe, of PR firm Briscoe French, said: ‘They are generating income which should be spent on the sort of infrastructure that some parts of the country are crying out for.’
But Cllr Jones said the UK had to gain control of its borders. And she said the UK’s immigration system was racist – as doctors from Pakistan and India go through rigorous checks, while asylum workers from Bulgaria or Poland ‘who want to wash cars in Sainsbury’s car park’ can freely come in.
Campaigner Les Cummings asked whether Brussels could be trusted with the nation’s security. Remain praised the work of Nato, and said the UK already had one of the best security services in the world.
BREXIT campaigners said the only key advantage of being in the EU was having cheaper mobile phone bills.
Managing director of Portsmouth-based Industrial Maintenance Services, Ian Brown, said he could only find one benefit to staying in the EU - cheaper roaming charges when he’s on holiday.
Councillor Jim Fleming said the cost to the taxpayer of being in the EU was between £8bn and £10bn– which is a ‘huge amount to pay out for’ just to get a better deal on your phone.
The claims came during a debate on whether the Remain and Brexit camps could see any merit in each other’s arguments.
Remain supporter, Cllr John Ferrett, Labour leader, said he welcomed the idea of £350m a week – which Brexit claims is spent by the UK as part of its EU membership – going back into the NHS.
But he said that would not be the reality as cash had also been ‘promised’ for other ‘public projects’ – and the UK economy would ultimately be left worse off.
Lib Dem Hugh Mason said he understood concerns over the EU economy.
But he said the Euro currency was faring much better than people thought and has been outperforming the pound.
Kevin Briscoe, of Briscoe French, said he couldn’t think of any argument to make him want to back Brexit.
While brexiter William Hynett admitted he was concerned about ‘abandoning friends in the EU’ and said an exit from Europe had to be managed properly to ensure there were no major repercussions on countries.