Business leaders take part in EU referendum debate in Ipswich

The Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the EADT EU referendum debate at UCS in Ipswich. L-R: Ben Gummer

The Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the EADT EU referendum debate at UCS in Ipswich. L-R: Ben Gummer MP and Terry Baxter and John May (chair - East of England Business for Britain). - Credit: Archant

Business and civic leaders took the opportunity to debate the pros and cons of staying in or leaving the EU at the third debate organised by the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce on Thursday evening.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, a supporter of the Stronger In campaign, debated with John May from the Business for Britain pressure group in a wide-ranging discussion that covered many aspects of the current debate.

The debate was chaired by Inspire Suffolk chief executive Terry Baxter and was supported by EADT publisher Archant.

Subjects ranging from immigration to the health service were raised, but it was the impact of pulling out of the EU on the economy that dominated the exchanges before an audience dominated by the business community.

Mr May said this was the first time he had become involved in a political campaign, and said the question of democracy itself was at the heart of his determination to see Britain pull out of the EU.

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He said the laws of the country should be subject to the highest British court – not the European Court of Justice: “But we can’t do that any more. Being in the EU compromises our democratic freedom. It’s something you cannot put a price on.”

Mr Gummer said it was important to remember that the EU was set up amid the ashes of the Second World War – and while it was NATO that was the defensive alliance, it was the trade that it had encouraged on the continent that had helped embed peace on the continent.

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And he warned that pulling out of Europe would be disastrous for the economy: “90% of economists predict a serious downturn if we leave. The single market is the foundation of that prosperity.

“The revolution of the 1980s, the resurgence of this country would not have been possible without the single market.”

Answering a question about immigration Mr May said he advocated an Australian-style points system to ensure people with necessary skills or abilities could work in Britain, but there was a control on the level of immigration.

But Mr Gummer said this would effectively mean the government would end up telling businesses which employees they could or could not take on.

They also clashed over the NHS with Mr May saying that the savings from not sending money to the EU could be used to boost health spending.

Mr Gummer, a health minister, said that the NHS would lose far more from a drop in tax receipts caused by a recession if Britain left the EU than it would ever get back from reclaiming EU funds.

At the start of the night the audience was split 44%-44% on the EU debate, with 12% undecided. A second vote taken at the end of the evening showed remain had a 53%-35% lead, still with 12% undecided.

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