Mehdi VO: Worried about mass migration, their identity and their independence. And divided about what is best for the economy, the British are putting their membership of a crisis-ridden European Union to the test in a referendum.
But surely we've been here before. Having voted to stay in the European club in 1975.
Harold Wilson (archive): Fourteen years of national argument[s] are over.
Mehdi VO: The British spent the next four decades agonising over their decision.
Tony Blair (archive): I will defend the British because it's right and because it's fair.
Mehdi VO: So-called Eurosceptics say the EU encroaches on British sovereignty.
Boris Johnson (archive): You've got to give up your right to make your own laws.
Mehdi VO: And feel they've lost control of their borders.
Nigel Farage (archive): We have a total open door to over 500 million people.
Mehdi VO: But for the other side, Britain has enjoyed the benefits of the EU's freedom to move and trade. And there's the fear that a breakup would be back for business and leave Britons poor and isolated.
David Cameron (archive): Britain will be safer, stronger and better off in a reformed European Union
Mehdi VO: My guest tonight is a die-hard Eurosceptic as British Chancellor or Finance Minister in the early 1990's he presided over the Black Wednesday financial crash and the painful recession.
He now believes the UK will be better off going it alone.
Mehdi VO: I'm Mehdi Hasan, and I've come here to the Oxford Union to go head to head with British Conservative Politician Norman Lamont, now Lord Lamont.
I'll ask him whether the UK will lose power and influence outside the European Union and whether the so-called Brexit will lead to the break-up of the UK and the EU as we know them.
Tonight I'll be joined by Steven Woolfe, a member of the European Parliament for the UK Independence party UKIP. Agnes Poirier, a French journalist and commentator based in London and Hugo Dixon, author of the In/out question, why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better.
Mehdi Hasan: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Norman Lamont
Mehdi VO: Norman Lamont served under two prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Since 1998 he has sat in the House of Lords as Lord Lamont of Lerwick.
Mehdi Hasan: Lord Lamont, in June you want the people of the United Kingdom to quit a political and economic club, the European Union that they've been part of for 43 years. Without spelling out exactly what the alternative to that club is, to that arrangement is, surely you would accept that at a very minimum if BREXIT, British Exit from the European Union, is not a leap into the abyss, then at least it is in the words of David Cameron, the prime minister, your former adviser, a leap into the unknown.
Norman Lamont: Yes but whichever side of the argument you're on there are a whole set of counterfactuals.
The EU is developing, and the EU wants to integrate further, the EU wants to enlarge further, the EU wants to have Turkey in which would be a profound change, the EU wants to shore up the euro which will affect Britain the way in which this is done, the degree of political integration.
Europe is not static, the idea that this is a choice between the status quo and something that is changing, you know is not right.
Mehdi Hasan: What do you say to a person who when asked about whether they should vote to stay in the EU says to come out of it now with nowhere else to go would jeopardise our children's future, what's the alternative or who says at a time of uncertainty if we want our children to continue to enjoy the benefits of peace then we have to stay in Europe, British influence has to be exerted on the continent, what do you say to them?
Is that wrong?
Norman Lamont: Well look on the question of trade, this argument that is being put that you have to be in there in order to trade is a completely overstated, over-exaggerated idea.
Mehdi Hasan: So it's overstated and exaggerated to say that it would jeopardise our children's future, what's the alternative? For our children to enjoy peace we must be part of Europe? What I'm reading out to you are Margaret Thatcher's words.
Norman Lamont: Peace has not depended upon the EU, in fact, I would argue the EU came quite close in its mishandling of the Ukraine crisis to nearly jeopardising peace in Europe. But peace has been dependent much more upon NATO I think the idea that peace in Europe depends upon the EU is completely false and to be honest a rather silly argument.
Mehdi Hasan: So Margaret Thatcher was being silly when she said that?
Norman Lamont: Mehdi I adore the memory of Mrs Thatcher, and you can recite lots of things about her, it doesn't mean I have to agree with every one of them.
Mehdi Hasan: Fine, so you agree that she was being silly when she said that. You're a Conservative, a proud free marketer, a free trader, and yet you're basically saying you don't want to be part of the world's biggest freest Single Market, the European Union. That's what you're advocating.
Norman Lamont: Does the United States not have access to the EU?
Mehdi Hasan: Not to the Single Market it doesn't
Norman Lamont: Mehdi if you look at the figures on statistics you will find the United States exports in services almost as much as we do.
Mehdi Hasan: In quantity, in money.
Norman Lamont: Despite being thousands of miles away.
Mehdi Hasan: And despite being six times our size but okay.
Norman Lamont: And despite, despite not having any say in the so-called decisions of the EU
Mehdi Hasan: All these people who think, all these banks who are worried about it, all these businesses are worried about, all these economists who all come out and say the damage to the British economy, all these studies showing the losses to growth that will come out, they're all just imagining it. We should just take your word on trust that all will be fine.
Norman Lamont: Well Mehdi I'm a devoted fan of your reading, and this is the first time I've ever heard you so sincerely espousing the Goldman Sachs argument, the Morgan Stanley argument, the JP Morgan argument. I actually think it ought to be determined by the people of this country, not by those banks.
Norman Lamont: If you take small businesses, small businesses are much more concerned about the regulation that comes out of the EU, big business obviously is just worried about change. Any change is obviously a cost is an uncertainty
Mehdi Hasan: The Federation of Small Business did a poll of 6,000 small businesses. They found that more wanted to stay in than leave, 47 percent to 40 percent so you're wrong on the small business front, and you're wrong on the big business front.
Norman Lamont: One poll may have said that but more entrepreneurial businesses, more small businesses tend to have a different view.
Mehdi Hasan: Maybe, but dealing with the specifics of the countries that are outside the EU, the Chinese government say very clearly "we want Britain to remain an important member of the EU", the Japanese say they expect the UK to maintain its favourable role in the EU as a gateway. The Indian government says "we want the UK to be our entry point into the EU". The United States top trade envoy says "we're not interested in bilateral agreements with the UK, we want the UK to stay in the EU". Should we just ignore all these statements, and say "no, all will be fine come June 23"?
Norman Lamont: The EU trades with 55 countries on a free trade basis around the world look at Japan exporting to the EU over 20 years, its exports grew more faster than Britain's exports to the EU and Switzerland is more integrated. The idea that because we withdraw from the EU trade is going to dry up, jobs are going to be endangered, this is just an allegation that is being put around and has very little justification in fact.
Mehdi Hasan: Well you say that the Swiss government did a report in 2009 and said we've lost out in jobs and output as a result of our financial sector being cut out of the EU.
Norman Lamont: Mehdi all you're doing is repeating people's opinions.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, so you tell me what the definition of a fact is.
Norman Lamont: A fact is a fact.
Mehdi Hasan: Let's me just talk about you want facts. Okay, the PriceWaterhouseCooper study done earlier this year found that BREXIT could cost up to £100bn and 1 million jobs. A study by the London School of Economics found that BREXIT could lead to a fall in national income equivalent to that of the financial crash of 2008. Facts?
Norman Lamont: Look lots of people have different opinion, take Open Europe. Open Europe which I think does not favour withdrawal from the EU, it said 'this is a very difficult issue to quantify, the estimates are between if there was BREXIT on a pessimistic assumption minus 1.5 percent of GDP or possibly plus 0.5 percent.
Mehdi Hasan: 'But the most likely scenario' they said 'would be a drop of 1 percent of growth', you know that. Even the study you're quoting says we would do worse off.
Norman Lamont: The idea that this can be reduced to a whole lot of arithmetical figures is absurd.
Mehdi Hasan: It's worrying to hear a former finance minister say he doesn't really respect arithmetic figures.
Norman Lamont: Well I think any chancellor of the exchequer who believes economic forecasts needs his head examined.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's talk briefly about immigration and the impact on the UK economy. Migrants from the EU tend to be young, better educated than native Brits, more likely to start their own business than native Brits, pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits compared to native Brits and according to the British government's own figures, they help drive growth and balance the budget. What's not to like about them? Why do people on your side of the argument try and use migrants, EU migrants as an excuse for BREXIT?
Norman Lamont: Well, obviously in today's world Britain needs to have some immigration, insofar as there is an issue, I think it is simply to do with the sheer scale of immigration into this country, this is not just an EU issue, it is a non-EU issue.
Mehdi Hasan: Exactly so what does Brexit?
Norman Lamont: Well because the EU is half of the issue and...
Mehdi Hasan: Less than half
Norman Lamont: Britain is a very densely populated country, the net immigration into this country is 330,000 people per annum which if projected into the future that means there would be 8 million people added to the population of this country within 15 years that is not, that is not sustainable.
Mehdi Hasan: So you don't like economic forecasts but you like migrant forecasts.
Norman Lamont: I like forecasts based on assumptions...
Mehdi Hasan: That are in your favour.
Norman Lamont: ...which I have made clear to you.
Mehdi Hasan: You wanted facts, migrants help the economy, do you accept that? The figures show that EU migrants put in more than they take out and help bring down the debt according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Norman Lamont: I think the argument that immigration is overwhelming good for the economy is over-stated The test of whether immigration is good for the economy is the extent to which it improves productivity or GDP.
Mehdi Hasan: That's what all the studies show that immigration does.
Norman Lamont: It is not what all the studies show.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's go to our panel who have been waiting very patiently to come in. Hugo Dickson is the author of the In Out Question - why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better, editor and chief of In facts, a website dedicated to making the case for EU membership.
Hugo, what do you say to those people who point out that a lot of the people who are making the case for staying in the EU who warn that the economy will suffer if Britain were to pull out were also the same people who said "we must join the euro otherwise the economy will suffer" and they were wrong then, how do we know they're right this time?
Hugo Dickson: It's just not true. Of course, there are some people in the category that you're talking about, and there are equally some people in other categories.
For example, the prime minister, David Cameron, he didn't advocate us joining the euro. George Osborne, who is now the chancellor of the exchequer, he didn't advocate joining the euro. But Norman asked for some facts.
Well, one fact is that almost half our trade is with the EU. Another fact is that no country which doesn't offer free movement of people has full access to that Single Market. Of course, we would have some access, but it would be diminished access and in particular for the city of London which is our largest industry, financial services, no country that doesn't have full access to the Single Market has full access for its finance industry. Now you said to Norman. Can I just say one other thing? That they can't say what out is, sometimes they say we want to be like Norway, sometimes they say they want to be like Switzerland, sometimes they say they want to be like Canada, and there are frankly more positions for out than there are positions in the Kama Sutra.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, there's an analogy between Brexit that you don't often hear every day. Steven Woolfe is a member of the European Parliament for the UK Independence Party, UKIP, which campaigns against British membership of the EU. He's the party spokesman on migration and financial affairs. Steven, what do you favour, what's your alternative?
Steven Woolfe: I would like to see, as Norman would, a free trade arrangement that works between this country and the European Union because that is the modern model the question is, and the other side have to argue, is whether the European Union would put tariffs on. We don't believe they will because of world trade organisation rules.
Mehdi Hasan: But the French president said there will be consequences, the German finance minister says "it won't be easy to do a deal with Britain after Brexit".
Steven Woolfe: Well, of course, they would want to say that because they're all positioning themselves to give them the strongest hand as you would do in any negotiation. We're paying 10 percent of our GDP in regulatory costs that impact 100 percent of our businesses when only 10 percent of our businesses trade with Europe. That's why it would be beneficial to the small businesses in here 'cause they wouldn't have to deal with those regulations anymore.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let me bring in Agnes Poirier, who is a French journalist, author, commentator based here in the UK. Do you think that Britain's continental neighbours, are they going to do the kind of deals, that Steven and Lord Lamont suggest will happen?
Agnes Poirier: Well I think the parting will be very long, acrimonious and most unpleasant for everyone and the conditions of its exit are going to be negotiated without Britain in the room. I remember I covered EU summits, and I asked the question at the Commission and members of the Council "so what about the negotiation afterwards?" and they smiled, and they said, "well they should ask the Swiss". It was very long, it was very painful, and we made the decisions. The EU will make Britain, you know, pay for undermining the whole European project.
Norman Lamont: I am puzzled by this attitude; why should that be the case? If one country democratically decides it wants to leave the EU, surely that should be respected and accepted. But is an agreement negotiable or not negotiable? Now this is what Jacques Delors, the president of the Commission, a man dedicated to federalism within the EU, a man I know well, who I had to deal with in government, who I respect but who has completely different ideas from my own. He said "if the British cannot support the trend towards more integration in Europe we can nevertheless remain friends, I could imagine a form such as a European Economic area or a free trade agreement."
Mehdi Hasan: So you're having a go at me for quoting people and yet when I quote the president of France and the finance minister of Germany who say they're going to take consequences, poison Brexit, you come back and quote to me a guy who was European Commission president 21 years ago, seriously, that's your response who has no power, who's not relevant to this debate right now.
Norman Lamont: A man who absolutely embodies the ideals of European integration
Mehdi Hasan: Let's move onto politics, you've been wanting to talk about politics, you said and you quote "the decision about whether we should remain in the EU will not be entirely about economics, it's about politics, it's about democracy".
It's a nice line but what would you say to those who say "it's a little bit hypocritical for an unelected peer in Britain's unelected Chamber of Parliament to be lecturing the EU on democracy and elections?
Norman Lamont: I am not the designer of Britain's constitution nor the designer of the situation within which I sit. But I do believe that governments should be elected, governments should be responsible to voters. You interviewed Viviane Reading in this very hall.
She described the European Commission as being the government of the EU. I think one of the problems with the EU is that proposals are put on the basis of inter-governmental agreements but it's very difficult for a voter or an electorate in one country to undo something that has been agreed by Treaty and you have this whole question of Treaty versus national parliaments. Now I actually was just amazed that you could have a situation that you had a Greek electorate rejecting what the EU wanted to impose on Europe. Both in an election and in a referendum and yet the will of Europe had to prevail against national democracy.
Mehdi Hasan: What do you say to those who say you've misunderstood the nature of sovereignty, your former departmental boss, Michael Heseltine, former deputy prime minister once famously said "that a man alone in the desert is sovereign, he's also powerless?" Your successor as Conservative Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke recently argued that if you take the Brexit leave us alone argument to quote 'it's logical conclusion, the most sovereign nation in the world is North Korea'.
Norman Lamont: No, well I think they are confusing the concept of sovereignty with the concept of power. Now you may argue it is better to have power, but the concept of sovereignty and the concept of power are not the same things at all.
Mehdi Hasan: But Britain still has sovereignty.
Norman Lamont: But sovereignty is also intertwined with the concept of democracy, and I believe that democracy is best represented at a national level. There is no European demos; there is no European public opinion. Yes we elect a European parliament but what does it represent? It crosses 28 countries with different public opinions, different issues. The voters of Denmark do not have a great interest in the same issues as. The government of Latvia, the government of the UK has different interests from other governments in the EU.
Mehdi Hasan: Let's go back to our panel Hugo Dickson, surely you would accept Norman Lamont's rather straightforward point that there is no demos in Europe, there is no people, how do you build democracy at an EU level?
Hugo Dickson: I accept that there is no demos, it may develop over a few generations, let's see. But I think you've got to put things in context. Most of the things that are done that matter for the British people are done at a governmental level, are done by our parliament in Westminster. They are not done at the European level. Norman Lamont said, he said "you've got to distinguish between sovereignty and power". We are extremely influential within the EU, and if we stay in we will be in a fantastic position to be driving it for the future. But we are not driven by it, there are whole areas that are nothing to do with the EU, it's our army, our NHS, our schools, our planning policies, these are not touched by Brussels.
Mehdi Hasan: Lord Lamont, do you want to respond to Hugo?
Norman Lamont: It's very difficult to estimate precisely what level of laws is determined both directly and indirectly. Some people have put it at 50 percent; some people have put it at 30 percent.
Mehdi Hasan: Some at 20.
Norman Lamont: Or whatever but let me just make this point. There's one thing I did learn in government, and I have to confess I was a bit shocked by it, and it became clear to me in every meeting I subsequently had with my opposite numbers that what I believed was just rhetoric, what I believed was just wind and words was actually the real ambition was to create a United States of Europe.
Mehdi Hasan: Steven Woolfe, let me go back to Steven Woolfe from UKIP, your party leader has talked about Norway, Switzerland those are countries which are outside the EU sovereign, but you have to follow loads of EU laws and regulations, both country's governments admit that. A Norwegian politician famously said, "if you want to run Europe, be part of Europe, if you want to be run by Europe join Norway". So is that the path you're going down?
Steven Woolfe: No because again it comes down to a distinction between you're trying to argue we can't do afterwards. The Norwegians and the Swiss have chosen through the negotiations that they entered into with the European Union to have those choices. What we can do knowing full well that we are the largest market for the European Union, that Germany's market in here, we are the largest market for Germany, that we would have a huge amount of influence using Hugo's terms in the way that we'd enter into the negotiations to choose the way we want our country to develop and how our relationships to move on and one of those key factors would be about democracy and would be about power. The EU can have agreements with ourselves but what it has is a government issuing legislation from unelected commissioners and doesn't have legislation created by us as parliamentarians.
Mehdi Hasan: Very briefly Hugo, unelected commissioners making laws?
Hugo Dickson: Look, they don't make laws, they propose laws. The people who actually make the laws are the council which is made up of people like our ministers of finance, people like what Norman Lamont was and the people like Steven, the member of parliament.
Mehdi Hasan: Agnes, the complaint from British Euro-sceptics that the EU is undemocratic, untransparent, unaccountable, that isn't just a British complaint is it? I mean Norman Lamont's right, across the continent people are feeling distant, they're feeling detached from this Euro-elite they don't seem to be able to get rid of.
Agnes Poirier: Okay, of course, we want Europe to be more democrat, and we also want more democracy in our own country. I mean to go back on sovereignty, I don't know a more sovereign country than Britain. It has opted out from so many EU laws and regulations it does stand apart from the rest of its colleagues of Europe.
Mehdi Hasan: The Schengen Agreement, Justice, Home Affairs, the Euro.
Agnes Poirier: Exactly and it enjoys a privileged position in Europe. Stay! Because it is unique. Britain is the most irritating member but also the most vocal and incredibly efficient, and it has so much power when it is inside, and many people in Europe are very grateful for Britain's voice.
Now can I just go on European demos? It might, yes they are different European people, but there is a European spirit. I was educated in two countries, and many people here will have studied in different countries in Europe. So there is a spirit which nobody is talking about, but I think, you know, young people know what I'm talking about.
Mehdi Hasan: Lord Lamont "stay," Agnes says. Praise, young people, students will applause anything. Agnes says "stay, be privileged, be irritating but stay; we have more opt-outs than any other EU member country", what do you say to that?
Norman Lamont: Well I think the basic problem with staying is this that Europe is going in two directions that Britain doesn't want to go. Further political integration and the Euro and does it really make sense to carry on doing that when we do not share the ultimate objective? And that is why I favour getting out, and it's very nice of our French friend to say people are grateful for Britain's awkwardness, but actually I think the thing that could save Europe and do most to save Europe from the direction in which it's going is actually to have a vote against British membership which I think will actually force the European Union to think about real reform. It won't think about it without having a no in the British referendum.
Mehdi Hasan: And on that note Lord Lamont we're going to have to take a break there and in part two of Head to Head we're going to be talking to Lord Lamont about what will the role of the UK be on the global stage if it quits the European Union? Join me after the break.
Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera English. On June 23, the British public will vote in a referendum to decide whether they want to stay in the European Union or not. But what would life for the British and the UK government be like across the world as a global player if Britain quits the EU? My guest is Lord Lamont, the former chancellor of the exchequer, the former finance minister of the UK.
Lord Lamont, the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Philip Hammond, a member of your Conservative party, you know him well, has pointed out that none of our allies wants us to leave the EU, not Australia, not New Zealand, not Canada, not the US, In fact, the only country, if the truth is told that would like us to leave the EU, is Russia. That should probably tell us all we need to know, does that tell you Lord Lamont all you need to know?
Norman Lamont: Well I think the accusation that Russia wants us to leave the EU should be treated with a large pinch of salt. I've had a few ambassadors saying this to me, and they say "oh boy, you haven't seen the telegrams, I know what Mr Putin is thinking in the Kremlin". This is, I'm afraid, just propaganda. But you know obviously if you take the United States, the United States government I'm sure thinks it doesn't want Britain to leave the EU. Now why would that be? We are their voice in Europe, well I can understand that they take that view.
But ultimately this is something that has to be decided on the basis of what is good for Britain, what is good for Britain economically and what is good for Britain politically and the main point I've been trying to make in this discussion has been actually our democracy is being eroded, we are creating a monster in Europe that's not answerable to public opinion which will in the end in disaster, just as the Euro will end in disaster too eventually.
Mehdi Hasan: So you accept that we're alone on this internationally?
Norman Lamont: Questions of identity by whom you wish to be governed can only be decided by the people of a country. No-one else is entitled to it.
Mehdi Hasan: Agreed, I don't think anyone is questioning that but to make that decision the British public want to know well hold on, will we be isolated in the world? Will we lose power and influence in Washington DC and does it not bother you even a little bit that you have on one side of the argument the Whitehouse, the EU, the Commonwealth allies? And on the other side of the argument you have Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and yes, Vladimir Putin maybe as well, I mean that seems to be the international breakdown from where I'm sitting, correct me if I'm wrong.
Norman Lamont: I think the inclusion of La Pen was not worthy of you Mehdi.
Mehdi Hasan: But Marine Le Pen is a supporter of Brexit, she said "it will be like the Berlin Wall coming down".
Norman Lamont: Let's examine the argument, not who supports it.
Mehdi Hasan: The argument is this, that on the international stage, let's take Putin then, let's put Marine Le Pen to one side, Putin, the Russians do benefit from the break- up of the EU that you want to see that would be started by BREXIT potentially because it's EU that's putting sanctions on Russia. It's the EU that's trying to present a common front on all these issues involving...
Norman Lamont: I don't believe that Russia would gain or be affected by the break-up of the EU. I do not believe that Mr Putin regards the EU as a geopolitical player and he's quite right not to. The EU is good at trade, the EU is good at some issues of regulation, that's what it's meant to be about. The EU is over-reaching itself when it attempts to be a power. Let's take foreign policy questions.
Mehdi Hasan: The Iran nuclear deal.
Norman Lamont: On the Iraq war they couldn't decide which side they're on. Take the Falklands War; they couldn't decide, different countries had different views. Take the recognition of Kosovo; different countries have different views. On almost every foreign policy question, there is a split within the EU.
Mehdi Hasan: Not on the Iranian nuclear deal or the biggest geopolitical deal of 2015 would not have happened without the EU, do you accept that?
Norman Lamont: I do accept that Europe was for once united on the Iranian nuclear deal but on the vast majority of foreign policy questions, Europe is deeply divided.
The EU is not a diplomatic player in military matters or in foreign policy.
Mehdi Hasan: But you say military matters, in terms of national security let's forget for a moment the open letter from 13 of Britain's most senior former military commanders saying it's in the UK's national security interest to remain an EU member because of Russia, because of ISIL, they're retired.
But look at the current head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg who says "for NATO it is important to have a strong Europe and a strong Britain in a strong Europe". The current US government says "it's in the UK's national security interest to be part of the EU". The current head of EUROPOL, the EU law enforcement agency who is British, Rob Wainwright says leaving the EU would "make the UK's job harder to protect citizens from, terror".
Norman Lamont: I don't believe and I can't see any reason, you didn't give any reason, why Britain leaving the EU should affect our membership of NATO or the effectiveness of NATO in any way, you know Britain commits a certain amount of resources, a lot of resources compared to other countries to NATO. So I don't see, you know, Norway is out and Norway is a good contributor to NATO, what's the issue? I don't see it but if you're talking about...
Mehdi Hasan: That's what NATO are saying, I'm just telling you what NATO are saying.
Norman Lamont: All your questions have been blah blah blah says, you know let's actually examine the argument, don't just be confused by being...
Mehdi Hasan: I just wish I'd quoted Jacques Delors.
Norman Lamont: Well you know Mehdi, for an iconoclastic journalist who I much admire, you're surprisingly subservient to important names. But on the issue of internal security, that is a completely different set of issues, you quoted the head of Interpol, as you know a previous head of Interpol, Mr Noble actually described the Schengen area as a sort of free trade area for terrorists.
Mehdi Hasan: Which we're not part of, the Schengen area.
Norman Lamont: Yes but that doesn't mean that the Schengen area doesn't affect our security if a lot of terrorists are allowed to get into it.
Mehdi Hasan: But we're not part of the Schengen area. Let me ask you one last question before we go back to our panel. In October 2012 the European Union as awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because according to the judges "for over six decades it contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe". Less than four years later, rather than feeling proud about being part of that achievement, that organisation, you want the British public to turn their backs on that organisation it helped secure that peace in Europe after World War II?
Norman Lamont: I don't regard the European Union as being the institution which has achieved peace in Europe. I think that is primarily NATO, I think the world has changed, you know the idea, thank God, that there might be a war between France and Germany, I think is not a real possibility,
Mehdi Hasan: Okay well let's go back to our panel on that note, Hugo Dickson is the author of the In Out Question, why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better, editor and chief of In Facts, a website, making the case for British membership of the EU.
Hugo, the EU shouldn't get credit for securing peace in Europe, it was NATO and we'll still have NATO even after Britain pulls out of the European Union.
Hugo Dickon: NATO has played the bigger role but the EU has done very important things. For example, after the break-up of the Soviet Empire, bringing those Eastern European countries into the EU was a hugely valuable thing NATO is important, very important but we have a presidential frontrunner in America at the moment, Donald Trump, who is saying that if he becomes president, he would like to downgrade American involvement in NATO.
Even if he doesn't become president, and I damn well hope he doesn't become president, America is tiring of the role of playing the global policeman.
In Europe we live in a dangerous part of the world North African and the Middle East are blowing up, Putin, which you mentioned, he's flexing his muscles in the east. We are going to be stronger and safer if we stay together with our European allies than if we splinter away, and as Norman Lamont wants, he wants that actually to trigger the disillusion of the entire EU, which will be even more destabilising.
Mehdi Hasan: Steven Woolfe is a member of the European Parliament for the UK Independence Party which campaigns against British membership of the EU there are people who are worried and say "look at the EU break-up that may happen after BREXIT has been cheered on by Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen in France", other such far right wing parties who favour their countries pulling out of the EU.
Steven Woolfe: I would say she's far left but there you go.
Mehdi Hasan: Some criticise your party as a right wing, far right wing party, what do you say to that argument that is going to stoke up those nationalist sentiments?
Steven Woolfe: The thing that's stoking of national influence is actually two things. First of all is the elites in this European Union that have been ignoring the impact of bringing in power into the centre and not being enabling those people across Europe to have their voices heard and the second aspect is across the monumental mistake that Merkel made in allowing mass migration to impact into the European Union and again that's stoking up those people who are using immigration in a nasty way which I believe if we leave the European Union we can have an outwardly trading, outward looking immigration policy that treats the whole world equally rather than just saying Europe good, rest of the world bad.
Mehdi Hasan: Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and author in London, do you want to respond to what you heard from Steven there?
Agnes Poirier: Well on peace, I mean we our memory is so short, we've enjoyed 70 years of peace you know to say now because we just take it for granted that France and Germany would never be at war again, well thank you Europe. And in terms of terror, you know something was very striking after the Brussels attack, 30 minutes later you could hear partisans of the Leave camp saying "oh well that's really evidence that we should leave because all these Jihadis have European passports so let's close the doors and we'll be so much safer". Well ten years ago when London was attacked, did I hear anyone in Europe say "oh they were brought up in Yorkshire, they have UK passports, we should eject Britain so that we're not invaded by homegrown British Jihadis"? No I didn't hear any of this, what I heard was solidarity for a terrible thing.
Mehdi Hasan: Lord Lamont, do you want to respond?
Norman Lamont: Hugo rightly said the US is tiring of Europe not making the resources available to defend itself, that is perfectly true but that needs every country in Europe to spend more on defence. Britain is one of the very few countries that honours its native commitment, spending 2 percent. It's up to the individual countries; they need to do that. Europe itself, you know it pretends to have some military presence, some military organisation but it's largely just a lot of scrambled egg on general shoulders.
Norman Lamont: Ok, let's go to our audience here in the Oxford Union who have been waiting patiently let's take a question from the back, let's take the lady in the front row.
Female in audience: I'd like to ask a question about the impact of Brexit on the Union and what consideration you would give to the possibility of English votes determining to leave and Scottish votes and particularly the impact on the Scottish Parliament and what their attitude might be?
Norman Lamont: Well obviously that's a very important issue, it's one that matters to me a lot. I am Scottish, obviously as a Conservative a unionist, but I don't think one can let the issue of Scottish independence determine this once in a 45-year time scale issue for the whole of the UK consider where Scotland would be if it decided to hold a referendum if Britain had voted to leave the EU. Scotland would then end up being outside the UK and also outside the EU because Scotland would be outside the EU.
Mehdi Hasan: But the polls do show that the Scots, the majority of Scots say they would vote yes if Brexit happened against their will. There is a link in Scottish voters.
Norman Lamont: Well the polls were wrong before, and I think they would be wrong again.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay let's go back to the audience, let's go to a gentleman here in the second row.
Male in audience: I don't know why it's acceptable for a Tory peer to make an open appeal to nationalism and identity for a reason to vote in a European referendum whereas members of Yes campaigns in Scotland were openly compared to early 20th Century fascists without even suggesting that nationalism was relevant just for wanting to make arguments about democracy, which you openly say identity is a core reason and that's valid but what's the difference?
Norman Lamont: No, there isn't a difference. No, no, no, no… Look, I don't dispute for one second although you know I think there is an identity called British which I happen to identify with as much as I identify with being Scottish. I don't wish to give that up; there are, you know people can have several identities, but I don't for one minute dispute the right of the Scottish people to have a vote and to define for themselves what their identity is, of course I accept that.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's go back to the audience, a gentleman here on the second row also with the glasses and the beard
Male in audience: Lord Lamont, in a referendum in 2008, voters in Ireland famously rejected the Lisbon Treaty, but EU leaders weren't willing to take no for an answer. They pressured Ireland into holding a second referendum and eventually got the answer they wanted. Do you not fear that if Britain votes on June 23 to leave the EU, that the same might happen to us?
Norman Lamont: Well I think that's a very interesting question and when Mehdi was interviewing Vivian Reading...
Mehdi Hasan: That was a close watch you did of that show.
Norman Lamont: He quoted to her what Jean–Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg head of the commission said on a previous referendum, he said "if it's a yes we will, yes on we go, and if it's a no we will say we continue". So this is deeply embedded in the psychology of the EU. Giscard d'Estaing, the former president of France put it even more explicitly once talking about the European Constitution. He said "public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly" and Raymond Barre, a former prime minister of France...
Mehdi Hasan: This is playing cards Norman Lamont.
Norman Lamont: ...had said "I have never understood why public opinion about European ideas should be taken into account at all". This is deeply embedded, there is a belief we know best, a supranational Europe is best, all national votes are against building our pet project Europe and we are going to ignore them
Mehdi Hasan: Let's go back to the audience, can I just point out for a man who doesn't like quotes, he brought along a stack of quotes, nicely done Lord Lamont. Can we go to the lady here in the second row and then I want to go to the back?
Female in audience: Hi, I would like to ask as a Bulgarian student in the EU, what's going to happen with me if the UK leaves the EU, am I going to become an illegal immigrant and what is going to happen with the other EU citizens in the UK?
Norman Lamont: No of course, I don't think we would have with the EU even a Visa requirement. We will obviously have border controls but I think we will still have a large degree of immigration from Europe. What we need is a better balance within our immigration system but we won't be imposing Visas, when I say we, I won't have the slightest say in it, I'm speculating about what the government...
Mehdi Hasan: Just a moment ago you were telling us that aren't you worried about all these terrorists that are infiltrating Europe and now you're saying I'm fine with lots of immigration from Europe, no Visas, it seems to me you want to have your cake and eat it.
Norman Lamont: Well, it is possible to have checks.
Mehdi Hasan: Which we have now.
Norman Lamont: No, wait a minute Mehdi, wait a minute. The checks that are made at borders, even under a passport system have to be within the law of the country and have to accord with certain criteria and the European Court of Justice has actually been at odds with the British government over the sorts of checks it applies when it examines people's passports. That's where the issue of security and terrorism comes in.
Mehdi Hasan: But we have turned away 6,000 European nationals I believe since 2010. Let's go to this lady here who's been waiting.
Female in audience: I was wondering what you would say to British people who think that EU actually represents them better than their current government by providing social protection for instance through working hour regulation, by providing a brighter future perhaps through green policies and thinking that perhaps the EU is more serious about tackling tax evasion as the current government seems to be?
Norman Lamont: I would answer that by saying that when you talk about welfare rights or social rights, you know they don't come from Europe, they may be embodied in European law but actually you know they are things that can be established by national governments. They have been established by national governments. But you know I don't think these things should be irreversible, these things should be there to be the subject of elections and the subject of argument.
Mehdi Hasan: I said we'd go to this gentleman here
Male in audience: there's an increasing trade protectionism rising in the US and what do you think that's going to mean if Britain leaves the EU in the sense that many US workers, average Americans don't really care about having a lot of imports come from the UK, what's that going to do?
Norman Lamont: I totally agree with you, the rise of protectionism in the US, it's not just the rise of protectionism, I think almost everything about this US election is highly alarming and the rhetoric and the things Donald Trump and indeed the things Senator Cruz says I find extremely unpalatable. There is a lot of protectionism in the United States and you know the average, I remember once arguing about steel tariffs with the US congressmen and they just said "it's our constituents, end of argument".
Mehdi Hasan: So aren't we safer from that being part of a club of 500 million people rather than going to the US on our own saying "please sir, can we do a deal with you?"
Norman Lamont: Well you say that but you know Europe at the moment doesn't have a trade agreement with the United States, trade is determined by willing customers and willing sellers and trade is...
Mehdi Hasan: You also have to operate in a world of tariffs and non-tariff barriers.
Norman Lamont: Do you know what the average tariff of the EU is?
Mehdi Hasan: No, you tell me.
Norman Lamont: 3 percent.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay so you're happy to pay that.
Norman Lamont: Well you know 3 percent is not going to be a huge deterrence of trade.
Mehdi Hasan: On cars I believe it's 10 percent
Norman Lamont: we are the biggest purchaser of German cars there is, do you really think Germany is going to allow the EU to impose a 10 percent tariff on us? Come on Mehdi; you know better than that.
Mehdi Hasan: And you know that it has to be a unanimous agreement of 27 countries and one small country...
Norman Lamont: Okay so Bulgaria is going to block BMW?
Mehdi Hasan: Well recently we saw the Dutch block a deal with the Ukrainians, any small country can do anything
Norman Lamont: Well I do believe as I've already said that the EU needs a trade agreement with Britain just as much as Britain needs a trade agreement.
Mehdi Hasan: Oh come on, really, you really believe that? (LAUGHTER) I mean they send 7 percent of their exports to us, we send 45 percent of ours to them. Our exports to the EU represents 13 percent of our GDPs; theirs represents 3 percent of their GDP. We're not equals. Lord Lamont
Norman Lamont: This argument about percentages...
Mehdi Hasan: Oh numbers, facts, pesky.
Norman Lamont: The larger the unit, the smaller the percentage, come off it, trade is for mutual, it's not a form of warfare.
Mehdi Hasan: Agreed, agreed, let's go to the back, let's go to the lady there in the third row with her hand up.
Female in audience: Lord Lamont, would you not accept that the best answer is to remain in a reformed Europe which embodies the principle of subsidiarity where issues are dealt with at the most appropriate level such as climate change which is not a national issue?
Norman Lamont: No, I do agree with that, I think it would have been best if we had had a reformed Europe. But I do believe that if Britain votes to come out, I think that will have the effect of forcing the European Union actually to think about what it is doing and we might actually get some new proposals coming out of Europe on that after that.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's take one final question from the gentleman at the back there.
Male in audience: What kind of message does it send to the international community when Britain effectively turns its back on the EU that's trying its best to allocate refugees across the EU as widely and as fairly as possible what kind of message does that send if Britain were to leave the EU?
Norman Lamont: Well I don't for one minute think we should turn our back on refugees. There is an appalling humanitarian crisis, but I don't think the European Union has been at all effective in dealing with this situation, and I believe we've got a basic contradiction that you know on the one hand Mrs Merkel wants to admit a million people into Germany but at the same time they want to preserve Schengen and have national quotas. Well, you can't have national quotas and the Schengen system as well, you know the refugees will obviously just move around. But I think what needs to be done is one we need a proper policy for refugees, I think we, you know we probably should admit more into this country, I do think that. But actually I think you probably could have achieved just as much by governments, sovereign governments, talking to each other as has been done already.
Mehdi Hasan: Lord Lamont, one last question before we finish, if the UK votes to stay in the EU on June 23, will you and other BREXITeers as you're known now, accept the result and give up on the BREXIT pipe dream, maybe retire to the South of France and stop banging on about Europe as David Cameron once said? Will it all be over?
Norman Lamont: Well I've not been banging on about Europe, I supported our membership when we first joined, I supported it in the referendum. I've never advocated it until this minute but I have been persuaded because I do believe the euro is a latent disaster, it's not over, the crisis in the euro and that is the focus of the EU, and that is going to be a mess that is going to drag us down and therefore I think.
Mehdi Hasan: And will the referendum result settle it?
Norman Lamont: I will accept the result.
Mehdi Hasan: There won't be call for another referendum a few years down the line? We had one after 40 odd years.
Norman Lamont: Well I don't imagine there will be one for quite a while.
Mehdi Hasan: So this will settle it for a generation?
Norman Lamont: Well, we'll have to see.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay. Lord Lamont, thanks for joining me on Head on Head, thank you to our panel here in the Oxford Union, thanks to our audience here in the Oxford Union. Head to Head will be back next week.
Source: Al Jazeera