In anticipation of the EU Referendum to be held on the 23rd June 2016, Birmingham Law Society’s International Committee held an open debate with a selection of formidable speakers arguing the case for a “In” or “Out” vote. Kindly hosted by KPMG at their Snowhill offices, the event was chaired by Michael O’Brien QC of No5 Chambers.

Those arguing in favour were Professor Martin Trybus Professor of European Law and Policy at the University of Birmingham and Director of Institute of European Law and Malcolm Harbour CBE. The “Out” Debate presented by John Longworth, former Director of British Chamber of Commerce and current member of the American Chamber of Commerce and Careers Company, and James Carver, MEP UKIP.

Mushtaq Khan, former President of the Birmingham Law Society, opened the conference by stating: “Birmingham Law Society is a firmly non-partisan organisation, we do not intend to advocate one view or another in respect of the UK’s membership of the EU. We recognise that there are differing views within our membership as in society more broadly. Without taking a position, the prospect of withdrawal raises a number of serious issues to which we urge campaigners and political parties to give serious consideration as part of their commitment to serving the best interests of the UK and its people.”

‘Important new points highlighted by the ‘Remain’ side in the debate were that the EU single market is the only trade agreement that includes services – which are so crucial for the UK economy. The ‘Leave’ side admitted that there will be an economic shock after Brexit and appear to hope that Brexit will trigger the disintegration of the EU as a whole.’ commented speaker Martin Trybus, Professor of European Law and Policy at Birmingham University.

Malcolm Harbour CBE, furthered the argument to stay by sharing his experience of working in the European policy making reminding everyone how the UK has been so influential in shaping the EU we have today. Stating ‘The Single Market is a remarkable achievement, with trade and economic benefits that cannot be matched by any alternatives on offer. We should not toss aside 30 years of progress for an uncertain future.’

James Carver MEP for UKIP countered these by highlighting ‘The UK’s relationship with the EU has fundamentally changed since we joined the European Economic Community back in 1973. After 43 years of unsuccessfully trying to reform the European institutions, the time has come to leave the EU, thus allowing us to negotiate trade deals with the Commonwealth and emerging markets, instead of, as currently happens, requiring the permission of the European Commissioner for Trade.

With a seat on the UN Security Council and leading roles on other international organisations, we are well placed to reach out to a wider world, freed from the constraints of our EU membership – The world is our oyster, but if we remain inside the EU, our future is as a clam.’

John Longworth, who quit as the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce in order to ‘tell the truth about Brexit’ mounted a strong case to leave stating that ‘By and large, the businesses who only operate in the UK and those who export to the rest of the world want to leave the European Union, these make up 87% of the UK economy… Being in the EU is making them less competitive.’ Representing what he terms are the authentic voice of the real economy, Mr Longworth gave evidence of how leaving the EU will benefit the ‘grafters with good ideas’ highlighting that ‘people who, like me, have done business around the world, who know that taxpayers’ money that Brussels currently wastes could instead be invested in Britain: in public services, in infrastructure and in such things as steel production.’

Tony McDaid, Practice Director at No5 Chambers commented ‘The referendum is something that will affect all businesses and following today’s event I am now rethinking which way I will vote.’

It cannot be understated how significant this referendum is and the BLS To Leave or Not to Leave? That is the Question… event went a long way in helping those attending to be able make an informed choice on 23rd June.