More than 250 people gathered in central London on Sunday to hear leading advocates for the Remain and Leave campaigns engage in impassioned debate in the lead up to the EU referendum in June.
Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for South East England, made the case for Britain to leave the EU while Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North spoke in favour of the UK’s membership in the debate which was organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Mr Hannan focused on the Union’s supranational structure, asking “Why does Israel struggle to get a fair hearing in Brussels? Because the EU sees the nation state as transient, arbitrary and ultimately discredited. Israel is a model of democracy; a people who were stateless for 2,000 nears never lost their aspiration to nationhood: ‘Next year in Jerusalem’.”
Mr Streeting stressed the risks of leaving, replying that “the single market is the best economic relationship the UK can have… The Leave campaign can not point to any country with better arrangements. If the economy works well the country does well, so why on earth would we risk our economy and our safety?”
Contributions from the floor included comments on the European economy, EU regulations on Jewish religious practices and the bloc’s role in averting war in Europe.
Hannan also emphasised the risks of remaining in a potentially troubled Union of the future, asking, “do we make EU problems our problems, or do we have the confidence to live under our own laws?”, and concluding by saying Brexit would be ‘a process, not an event. We will be on a gradual trajectory towards the rest of the world”.
Streeting responded to Hannan, “globalisation is the process, not the event”, ending with a reminder of the inherent complications of pulling out: “Two years after voting to leave every EU member state will have to agree (to a UK trade deal), otherwise we are simply subject to World Trade Organisation rules”.
The debate was chaired by Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron, who said: “We were delighted to host this fascinating debate on a crucial choice facing our country. We will not be offering the community any advice on how to vote in the Referendum, but we hope that this debate will help people to think through the issues and decide for themselves.”
Earlier, Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, speaking to Deputies for the first time, three days after Israel’s Independence Day, praised the work of the Board of Deputies, saying “I’ve been in the UK just over a month and this is my second event with the Board of Deputies, which shows just how active you are.” He reaffirmed the Israeli government’s belief in a two-state solution, confirming, “We are ready to start negotiations with the Palestinians with no preconditions, anytime’, and fielded questions from Deputies on antisemitism in the UK, Holocaust survivors in Israel and the Palestinian economy.