On Monday, 23 May the Meetings Industry Association’s (mia) high profile debate revealed growing support to leave the EU with a swing of just over 15%.

Chaired by Conference News editor Paul Colston, the debate at The HAC, London, saw MPs James Heappey and Chris Heaton-Harris, who are both part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the UK Events Industry, join a heavy-weight panel that included City Pubs and Britain Stronger in Europe campaigner Clive Watson, Vote Leave’s Luke Springthorpe, Redcomb Pubs’ David Franks, Britain Stronger in Europe and Vrumi.com founder Roddy Campbell as well as conference and event presenter Jeremy Jacobs and industry trainer and consultant Richard John.

At the start of the evening the interactive Glisser poll revealed 18.8% of the 60-strong audience of meetings, hospitality and event planners would be voting to leave the EU, which raised to 34.1% by the end.

Hot topics of discussion included the potential impact on employment, recruitment and contracts should the UK opt for the exit vote on 23 June.

Opening the lively debate, Luke Springthorpe from Vote Leave argued that Britain needs to remain open for business with a sensible immigration policy. He said: “Those working and living here have acquired rights to remain in the UK.  It would make no sense to start deporting migrants from the EU.”

Clive Watson, however, argued an exit vote would have a significant impact on the makeup of the workforce as those ‘hardworking’ EU employees working in pubs, restaurants, coffee shops and the hotel sector would be hit hard and some of the industry would not be able to operate. He also expressed concerns regarding the social and economic rights of employees who are currently protected by EU employment law.

On the remain side of the debate, Roddy Campbell argued the freedom of movement in labour is valuable to people.

Other discussions surrounded the impact on international trading. Clive Watson stressed one of the main reasons to stay was access to the single market and the freedom of goods and services. He said the UK should remain part of the ‘biggest trading block in the world’.

Yet, David Franks argued ‘trade in the EU has been going down over time’ and it is ‘not a reason to stay in the EU as a break up is inevitable’. A point which was echoed by Chris Heaton-Harris who believes ‘we pay a lot of money to be part of the club’ and ‘we should be looking to the bigger global market and not a diminishing EU’.

In a rousing and passionate speech Richard Johns argued people will stop meeting face-to-face and stop going to events because they will be much worse off if we decide to leave. He said: “People will be poorer with six to 12% of salary wiped out if we leave.”

Taking a neutral stance James Heappey concluded that the debate had raised a number of ‘considered and plausible arguments’ which he felt was ‘refreshing’. He said: “We need to find a way to make it easier to get a visa to the UK to host events.” He ultimately suggested voters should ‘go with what your gut tells you. We will be fine either way in the long run’.

Rowan Bennett, board member of the mia and Head of Marketing & Events at The HAC, said: “We were delighted to have hosted such a high profile debate on such an important issue for not only our industry but our economy as a whole. To attract such a large audience sends a clear signal that our members and the sector are keen to make an informed choice.”

She added: “We were particularly thrilled over two-thirds (66.7%) of the audience felt the debate has helped them decide which box they will be placing their cross when they head to the polling stations on 23 June.”

At the end of the discussion members of the audience had the chance to put their own questions to the panel on subjects ranging from Boris Johnson being the right man to lead the Brexit campaign to whether the UK risks becoming a pariah shunned by Europe, if we leave.

The full debate can be watched here http://www.mia-uk.org/the-meetings-industry-associations-eu-debate/

<<Ends>>