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Farage and Verhofstadt: two sides of the Brexit divide

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Farage and Verhofstadt: two sides of the Brexit divide

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An increasingly heated and hostile debate on the EU Brexit referendum is dividing the United Kingdom and exposing the fault-lines of Europe. In this special edition of the Global Conversation, euronews’ Isabelle Kumar speaks to two prominent members of the European Parliament on different sides of that political divide:

Nigel Farage, head of UKIP and an outspoken campaigner for leaving the EU, and Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and a staunch defender of further EU integration.

Interview with Nigel Farage

Isabelle Kumar
Nigel Farage, many thanks for joining us on the Global Conversation.

You could soon be rubbing your hands in glee if Britain chooses to leave the EU, but as that vote fast approaches, do you have any niggling doubts of the risks that could entail?

Nigel Farage
None. Do you know, I spent 20 years in business, I spent 20 years involved in international trade, buying and selling, shipping things through Rotterdam, and what I know is that trade is not created by politicians, it’s not created by bureaucrats. Trade is created because a consumer looks at a product and says “I want that product, I trust that product and I will pay that price”.

Isabelle Kumar
But then this is a leap into the unknown as you know well yourself, because most likely Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be invoked, and our fate, well, Britain’s fate will be decided by the other 27 member states.

Nigel Farage
Let’s have a think about that. First, the long-term. Why did my parents’ generation vote to stay part of what was then called the common market? Two reasons: one they were told it was not political and, secondly, because it gave us tariff-free access into the European market place. Forty years on where are we? We have a different world through globalisation, through never-ending round of GATS (General Agreements on Trades and Services) in the World Trade Organisation. The original reason for getting this, namely the high tariff barriers, have all but disappeared.


Biography: Nigel Farage

  • Farage is one of the best-known eurosceptics
  • In 1993 Farage was a founding member of the United Kingdom Independence party (UKIP)
  • UKIP’s goal is to get the UK out of the EU
  • He was elected an MEP in 1999

Isabelle Kumar
Yes, but there will be a risk of higher tariffs if we leave…

Nigel Farage
But no! Because they can’t because of the World Trade Organisation pre-agreed rules. Now, so, the worst case scenario…

Isabelle Kumar
So if we leave the EU, the European Single market, you would say basically we will apply WTO rules… which don’t particularly like services, which Britain is strong at.

Nigel Farage
Let’s just suppose, for argument’s sake, that Germany and France and the eurozone decide to cut off their noses to spite their faces with their biggest global trading partner, with whom they trade at, at a surplus of getting on for 90 billion euros a year. The worst-case scenario, they put tariffs on our goods – the total costs of those tariffs is lower than our net EU membership fee, we would not have to accept future EU rules, we would not have to accept unlimited free movement of people and, here is the bonus, we would be able to negotiate our own trade deals globally.

Isabelle Kumar
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor has said that Britain leaving is a very bad idea.

Nigel Farage
Of course she has, we are the second biggest contributor.

Isabelle Kumar
US President Obama has said it’s a very bad idea, that we will go to the back of the queue for all trade negotiations, the OECD has said it is a bad idea, as has the IMF.

Nigel Farage
Whoa a second… We don’t have a trade deal with America at all, there has been no queue – ever! When I see the IMF and the OECD and all these publicly funded groups, a little bell rings in the back of my head, and it is called the euro. All these different groups are telling us if Britain does not join the Euro, direct investment will collapse, the city will close down, dreadful biblical things will happen to the UK. All I can say is, they were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

Isabelle Kumar
OK then what about the fact that a recent Ipsos MORI poll, which is a respected organisation, interviewed 639 economists in Britain. Only 5 percent of those said Brexit was positive…

Nigel Farage
Self-selected…It was self-selected, it was a survey.

Isabelle Kumar
They were not self-selected, they came from the Royal Economic Society and Society of Business Economists. Five percent of those said that Brexit would be positive for growth. Only five percent.

Nigel Farage
I looked at that poll and it was a self selecting poll. Those that answered the questionnaire, effectively, it’s meaningless. Look, the consensus…

Isabelle Kumar
But therefore you will say the consensus is that it is a bad idea so you are against the consensus.

Nigel Farage
You bet your life I am! That’s what got me into politics.The consensus in 1990 said Britain should join the exchange rate mechanism. We should peg Sterling against the Deutsche Mark. And you know, every major political party in Britain supported it. The trade unions supported it, but in 1992, we had record house repossessions, and record business bankruptcies in Britain because we pegged Sterling against the Deutsche Mark.

And do you know something… I was against that consensus and it was that consensus that was the same consensus that said you are in the euro, the same consensus that failed to see the credit crunch and the collapse of 2008 and 2009. They have been wrong about everything else and, frankly, on these issues, I have been right.

Isabelle Kumar
Let’s look at some of the other issues that this has been fought upon. Immigration has been one, the big issues for UK. Immigration has been good for the British economy, the British economy is growing…

Nigel Farage
Of course it is growing…

Isabelle Kumar
Why risk that?

Nigel Farage
Of course it is growing if your population increases by a half a million a year, your GDP figures go up. What doesn’t go up is GDP per capita. And what you cannot measure, because we look at this in terms of what does a migrant worker pay in tax and what do they take out in benefits. What we don’t measure is capital costs. How many new schools, how many new hospitals, how many new roads? How on earth can we cope? But you know something… there are some things in life that matter more than GDP figures and that is quality of life and cohesion of your community.

Isabelle Kumar
Controlling our borders. We see you brandishing your passport quite often.

Nigel Farage
I do. I mean I never leave home without it. We used to have a British passport. It used to be one of the great prizes…

Isabelle Kumar
And you don’t like the fact that Europe is written on it.

Nigel Farage
Gone. Gone. I don’t want this, I want to burn them all.

Isabelle Kumar
Yes, but the fact that you have your British passport shows that there are border checks when you go to Britain, we are not part of the Schengen Zone.

Nigel Farage
We can’t stop anybody coming. Unless they pose… the only EU citizens we can stop at the borders are people who pose a direct threat.

Isabelle Kumar
Well, who else do you want to stop?

Nigel Farage
I wouldn’t have anybody coming to get a job in my country who had a criminal record. Why would I? Why would any civilised nation?

Isabelle Kumar
The 2004 EU Citizens Directive does say that if there is suspicion, people can be halted from coming in, I have seen these figures…

Nigel Farage
It has to be an imminent threat. That’s the point. Look, all I am arguing here, all I am arguing is for the United Kingdom to become a normal country. Normal countries all around the world make their own laws and control their own borders. You know, there are over 183 countries in the world that celebrate independence days. All I am asking for is for us to become the 184th.

Isabelle Kumar
Would we be safer outside the EU?

Nigel Farage
Goodness me yes, in two ways. One, in terms of the terrorist threat. Whilst we are outside Schengen and I get that, and I am grateful that we are, I think that when the boss of Europol and Interpol just talk about the sheer number of extremists that we have allowed into Europe, that worries me greatly.

Isabelle Kumar
But if we are outside of Schengen, why does that pose a risk?

Nigel Farage
Because, in a matter of time, people get naturalised and get EU passports and then can freely come to Britain. But the other bigger issue here and I really don’t think that internationally we have thought enough about this. We know that the week after the British referendum there will be discussions here about the formation of a European army. Now that I am really, genuinely worried about.

Isabelle Kumar
You say that you are demonised because people say that you are a racist.

Nigel Farage
Oh God…

Isabelle Kumar
Do you retract your comments that you made about migrants increasing the possibility of rape of women if…

Nigel Farage
I did not say that, I said it is an issue.

Isabelle Kumar
But if it is an issue you are certainly bringing it up…

Nigel Farage
Sorry, would you say it is not an issue?

Isabelle Kumar
I would say it is not an issue that necessarily needs to be brought up because it can be seen as scare mongering.

Nigel Farage
Oh I see, so we should bury it under the carpet.

Isabelle Kumar
No. Is it scare mongering when you say that these things were an issue?

Nigel Farage
Were the 26 sex attacks that took place 12 days ago at a rock concert in Germany … is that scare mongering? Should we hide that too? Look, it’s very interesting this. Very interesting. On this issue of the Cologne sex attacks, the rock concert sex attacks, when I was asked about it I gave I thought the softest, gentlest answer I have ever given. I said it is an issue but it is not one for now, it’s a much longer term question. And it’s interesting that this has been picked up, there are commentators, there are former cabinet ministers who have said things far stronger than me.

Isabelle Kumar
Yes but at the same time you have argued that you would not want to have Romanians moving in next door to you.

Nigel Farage
I have not said that… This is all conflated rubbish.

Isabelle Kumar
You have also said that we are having our noses rubbed into diversity, so you can see why these issues of racism…

Nigel Farage
No, no no… Andrew Neather, who worked for Tony Blair in Downing Street, said “we will rub the noses of the right in diversity” and opened us up to mass immigration on a scale
we have never seen before. Is it any wonder 77 percent of the British public now want us to take that border control?

Isabelle Kumar
Now a couple of final questions. If you lose this vote, the Brexit vote, obviously it has been the work of a lifetime. Will you resign?

Nigel Farage
That is rather like asking a general who is going into battle what will he do if he loses.

Isabelle Kumar
There you are, I am asking you that question. What will you do?

Nigel Farage
I can’t contemplate it. I’d be mad to contemplate it. How could I be sitting talking to you, having driven through the night, not been to bed, working my hardest in these last few days to try and get Brexit, I cannot contemplate defeat. Ask me afterwards if it goes wrong.

Isabelle Kumar
OK and then, finally, give me the one reason. If you had to just isolate one reason why Britain should leave the EU, in a nutshell, why?

Nigel Farage
Because the best people to look after Britain are the British people themselves. We should do so through the ballot box in our own parliament.

Isabelle Kumar
Nigel Farage many thanks for having joined us.

Interview with Guy Verhofstadt

Even those arguing for more Europe and for Britain to stay a part of it, Brexit could even be an opportunity. Global Conversation interviews Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe at the European Parliament.

Isabelle Kumar
Guy Verhofstadt, many thanks for joining us on the Global Conversation.

Do you think the Brexit referendum could be a blessing in disguise? I don’t have to remind you of whom Jean Monnet is, one of the founding fathers of the EU, and he said the EU would be forged through crises. Could this be the crisis necessary for the EU?

Guy Verhofstadt
I don’t see it as a crisis but I see it as an opportunity. It could be a game changer. It could be a momentum in our history that creates enormous opportunity.

Isabelle Kumar
What opportunites?

Guy Verhofstadt
Well to fix the European Union, because the European Union does not work very well. It is not difficult to recognise that if you see the crisis of the refugees, the crisis of terror, the crisis of the euro, the geopolitical weakness of Europe, it is not difficult to recognise that Europe, this Europe, doesn’t work. So for me the Brexit, with a yes or with a no, is an opportunity to open the discussion about the fundamentals, the foundations of the European Union.


Biography: Guy Verhofstadt

  • Verhofstadt was Belgian Prime Minister from 1999 to 2008
  • After his premiership he became an MEP in 2009
  • Verhofstadt leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe at the European Parliament
  • He is a prolific author, having penned many political works about Europe

Isabelle Kumar
You are also opening up Pandora’s Box though because you have no idea what would happen.

Guy Verhofstadt
Pandora’s Box is now… Because everybody says yeah, we don’t need different types of membership. I say, we have already 28 different types of membership. There doesn’t exist one European Union. I think in my book on “Europe’s last chance” I describe at least 12 different European Unions that exist today. So we have to get rid of this and I think the discussion around Britain is an opportunity to establish what I call a core group going further into integration.

Isabelle Kumar
If Britain chooses to leave, how important will it be to make an example of Britain, to make sure other countries don’t want to leave as well?

Guy Verhofstadt
The majority of all these people want to remain in the European Union but not in this European Union. You have to make a huge difference between what people think about this European Union, or a European Union that doesn’t work and creates crises, or the Europe as a whole, Europe as an idea, Europe as a project, as a vision for the future and many people, most people, a huge majority of the people, want Europe and want a more integrated European Union, even a defense community.

Isabelle Kumar
Well Brexiters will argue that they will be safer outside of the European Union. Do you think that that is possible?

Guy Verhofstadt
I don’t think that is the opinion. For example, of Barack Obama who said in Britain that it should be stupid for Britain to go out of the European Union. If we don’t solve the problems, if we don’t reform in that European Union, more and more people, that’s true, will be populist, will go to nationalist and vote for nationalist and populist parties and eurosceptic parties. And for that reason, in my book what I did, was to subscribe most of the criticism of eurosceptics and populist parties. They are right when they are criticising this European Union, but they are wrong when they all say to solve the problems of the European Union we have to go back to the past and to the old-style nation states of the 19th Century.

Isabelle Kumar
One big issue for the Brexiters, for those who want to leave, is immigration. And many on the leave campaign are fed up, for example, with the freedom of movement and they argue that in Britain that services are overstretched. Would you advocate reviewing the freedom of movement?

Guy Verhofstadt
That doesn’t count in general for Europe because in Europe what we see is a lack of labour mobility and labour mobility in Europe is ten times lower than, for example, in the United States. One of the consequences of this is that there are two million of vacancies in Europe, two million of working places that are not fulfilled with people, but where they have a point is the lack of European approach on migration on asylum, on refugees, the reality is that it doesn’t exist even a European migration, asylum or refugee policy.

Isabelle Kumar
Because you discuss this in your book… So, what would be your solution to the refugee crisis which would not alienate more European citizens?

Guy Verhofstadt
Three things. First of all the first thing to do is a European border and coast guard. That doesn’t exist. Can you imagine that you have a freedom of movement inside the European Union but there is no common border management at the outside borders, with all the problems we have… and we see now [the problem] on the border between Greece and Turkey.

The second is one asylum system. Dublin is not an asylum system.

Isabelle Kumar
The Dublin Regulation...

Guy Verhofstadt
The Dublin Regulation is the opposite. It is saying to the Italians and to the Greeks, well, it’s your business, your responsibility, and we are not responsible for it.

And three, legal entrance in Europe has to be possible. Where the Americans have one Green Card, Canadians have it, Australians have it. We do not – in Europe we have 28 different national regulations on migration.

Isabelle Kumar
So those on the leave campaign will also use the fear factor and they will say that migration is linked to terrorism and insecurity. What do you say to that?

Guy Verhofstadt
Well, also there Europe is the solution. Because, let’s be honest, we need European capacities on questions of intelligence and the fight against terror. You know, the FBI was created in 1901. We need the same thing on the European level.

Isabelle Kumar
But at the moment, in the current context, that is not going to happen.

Guy Verhofstadt
But we did it.

Isabelle Kumar
So what would be your answer to security?

Guy Verhofstadt
I was there when we created the European arrest warrant. Yes? The warrant was created after the 9/11 attacks.

Isabelle Kumar
But it is not the same as having an FBI

Guy Verhofstadt
We need to do that because otherwise we continue with scandals like we have seen after the Paris attacks, where Abdul Salam, in the night of the Paris attacks, was stopped near to the Belgian border and the French police didn’t know him, didn’t recognise him. The Belgian police knew it, the French police didn’t do anything and he could continue his way.

Isabelle Kumar
A large part of the malaise in Europe began with the economic crisis. Now, if we bring this back to the Brexit debate, those on the leave campaign say they would be far more nimble, far more agile, without the shackles of the EU, without having to deal with the bureaucracy, and without having to necessarily trade with the EU which has got a stagnant economy.

Guy Verhofstadt
Yeah, but, the figures are a little different. Most figures and most analysis is showing an enormous disadvantage if Britain should leave the European Union. It’s not me but experts say that there is going to be a loss of economic growth, between 2 and 10 percent, and in the disadvantage of Britain. So I think in any way it is a bad thing.

Isabelle Kumar
Well you obviously are an arch federalist. That’s your European dream, you describe it in your book.

Guy Verhofstadt
Federalism is not a bad word.

Isabelle Kumar
It’s not a swear word…

Guy Verhofstadt
No, because the most powerful nation in the world…
Who’s the most powerful nation? The US.

Isabelle Kumar
For the moment…

Guy Verhofstadt
The United States of America is a federal state. So a federal state is a sign of strength and a sign that we should combine our strengths.

Isabelle Kumar
In theory that is great but your critics will say that you are flogging a dead horse because the context has changed too much. That is not possible in the current time.

Guy Verhofstadt
The opposite is true. We have to compete with whom? With China. China is not a nation. China is a civilisation, a Hun civilisation like we are, a European civilisation. India. India is not a nation. India is 2,000 ethnicities of nations. And on top of that twenty languages and four big religions. The biggest democracy, the US, is the same. They are fifty states, with their own constitution, working together.

The world of tomorrow is a world of empires, not a world of small nations.

Isabelle Kumar
Finally Guy Verhofstadt, I have one tricky question for you possibly… I want you to give me the one reason why Britain should stay in the EU.

Guy Verhofstadt
To stay, it is very simple. Geopolitically, the interest of Britain geopolitically, is to stay in the European Union. The only guy I think who should laugh with a Brexit vote, a vote to leave, is Vladimir Putin. He likes a divided Europe. So for geopolitical reasons, there’s the one most important reason why Britain should remain in the European Union.

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