A lively set of presentations and debate was witnessed by over 60 event professionals last night, 23 May, at the Meeting Industry Association (mia) ‘Are we better In or Out of Europe’ event, hosted at The Honourable Artillery Company in London. Two MPs (both members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Events), James Heappey and Chris Heaton-Harris, joined the panel, to air the big issues and shed some insights on how they might affect the meetings and events sector.
Chairing the panel, CN editor Paul Colston set the scene, asking whether separation from the EU and the largest single market in the world would all but destroy what exposure the UK already has as a conference capital, or could it free us from bureaucratic shackles to embrace a wider world of trading and event opportunities?
He mentioned BVEP research that indicated just one in 10 of members of its affiliated industry associations surveyed said they believed more events would be attracted to the UK following a Brexit (60% predicted fewer). Those results also showed industry investment was likely to plummet 50% with a Brexit, he said.
“Statistics can be used for any argument,” the chairman added, “and Brexiters might take comfort in the same survey’s result of 44% believing a Leave vote would lead to less regulation”.
For the Vote Leave campaign, Heaton-Harris, David Franks and Luke Springthorpe all made powerful points.
“We joined the EU for trade, but trade is not what the EU does anymore,” said Heaton-Harris MP, who pointed out the UK contributed £11.4bn to the EU last year.
“We can reduce corporation tax by a quarter, which would be one of the lowest rates in Europe. We would become a business hub,” said Springthorpe.
While Franks criticised the lack of democracy in European institutions: “If they don’t get the answer they want, they’ll vote again and again until they get it.”
On the Remain side of the debate, Roddy Campbell, founder of Vrumi.com, said London’s status as capital of the EU tech industry would be under threat with a decision to leave the EU. “The UK also has the lowest corporation tax in Europe, if you exclude Luxembourg and Ireland,” he added.
Industry trainer, Richard John, said: “What leaving EU means is losing the chance of meeting face to face.”
While Clive Watson, also of the Remain campaign, said without EU workers “some of us would not be able to operate”.
James Heappey, MP, who chairs the APPG on Events, officially remained neutral, but posed some of the key questions to consider, including “If we leave, will it be easier or harder to work in the UK? More expensive or cheaper to visit?” His ultimate advice was: “On 23 June, go with what your gut tells you. We will be fine either way in the long run.”
An audience poll via Glisser at the start of the debate answered to the question:
Will you be voting to leave the EU?
While at the end of the debate the Leavers had made up a little ground, with a new poll (pictured right) on the same question showing:
Photo: Paul Stallard: Candid Pictures