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Mike Gapes MP and John Redwood MP debate the merits of staying in the EU at a construction industry event.

This week, Foreign Affairs Committee member and Labour MP Mike Gapes and Vice President of Conservatives for Britain John Redwood MP went head to head on Brexit. The panel discussion was chaired by the assistant editor at the Times, Ann Ashworth, and hosted by the Federation of Master Builders.

In defence of Remain, Mike Gapes said the key to Britain’s security is the strength it derives from the Union.

Top of his of concerns was Russia, the UK’s “very difficult neighbour”, and the inevitable strength of soft powers in Asia.

“There is a long-term trend in economic power where European individual countries are not as important, and can’t be as important, unless we work together,” he cautioned.

Moreover, the Labour MP expressed concern that the United States was no longer the strong ally it once was.

“We know that NATO is the bedrock of our defence,” he said, “but who knows what will happen with the United States, given Trump’s remarks these past few days, and the general trend in America towards isolation or withdrawal from certain commitments around the world.

“The most natural and sensible allies for us, in terms of our values and our security, are our neighbours.”

John Redwood MP begged to differ, saying the EU is a threat to the UK’s democratic values.

Redwood said it was time for the UK to ‘take back control,’ adding that many people are confused about the intentions of the EU.

“This was always a long and wild ride to political union [to create] a centre of power in Brussels, which pre-empts, or takes away from, the democracies of Britain, France and Germany.”

“There is no doubt this process is not over” he warned, and added that remaining in the EU will lead to greater control of UK citizens by “five unelected Presidents.”

In fiscal terms, Redwood was concerned that membership required the UK to plough money into the Union for, what he deemed was, “foreign aid for rich countries,” which could be better spent domestically.

Gapes however said the “pot of gold” argument does not hold up in light of the economic benefit the UK gains from being a member of the EU.

“If you look at the overall picture, the net annual contribution over the seven year period is actually £3.8bn… we benefit far more from the trade we gain from being in the Union,” said Mr Gapes.

The two remained staunchly opposed on how departure from the Union would affect the construction industry and labour market policy more broadly.

Gapes denounced concerns over immigration, arguing that the EU is home to as many UK immigrants as it sends to the continent. Moreover, the immigrants we gain tend to be younger and of working age, while the UK citizens who go are often ‘older retirees’.

The Labour MP said the UK already has measures to ensure that only registered EU migrants may enter Britain, and that this supply was vital to the workforce. He warned, however, that outside the EU there could well be shortages for the construction sector, as with other sectors such as nursing, adding that there is profound uncertainty as to how this would work post-Brexit.

“If we restrict the number of people working in our economy it will damage our GDP and there will be less to contribute to our social services,” said Gapes.

Conversely, Redwood maintained that outside the EU, the UK’s industries would benefit from quality over quantity, thanks to a more selective immigration policy. “There will still be migration, but there will be less,” he said. “We have no wish to control people coming in for university degrees or high-skilled labourers.”

When asked by an FMB member, who is also Chair of its Procurement Group, how the UK benefits from public sector procurement inside the EU, Gapes argued that membership was less relevant. There are restrictions about non-discriminatory procurement and advertising, he said, but it is up to the UK how tightly these are implemented.

"There is a mind-set in this country that if something is written down you must really enforce it to the letter. There are other countries that have a much more relaxed attitude towards that, they interpret it in different ways.

"That is our own fault. It has nothing to do with Brussels, it is how we choose to interpret the rules."

Redwood, on the other hand, held that “leaving might allow us to be a bit kinder to our own people," in this regard, by supporting our own industries, and would free up the process which is currently bogged down in bureaucracy.

Again, Gapes argued this was more to do with how the rules are interpreted and implemented.

“Certain states are more interventionist than others,” he said, giving the examples of Italy and France which push protections as far as they can. “Whereas [the UK] has a different mindset, and should learn to play the game better instead of walking off the pitch.”

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