Credit: Institute of Directors

Peter Mandelson won the debate with Nigel Lawson on the EU - just

It was like seeing two scuffling silverbacks go toe to toe - shame there wasn't a vote at the end, says Christine Armstrong.

by Christine Armstrong
Last Updated: 12 Oct 2015

Lords Mandelson and Lawson battling Britain's membership of the EU at the Institute of Directors (IoD) annual convention today brought to mind two faded silverbacks scuffling for dominance. Fascinating and tinged with nostalgia.

Lawson didn't help this impression by grounding his views in a dinner party debate he had with Hugh Gaitskell in which he argued for Europe and Gaitskell argued against, He now concedes he was wrong. For those under 60, Gaitskell was leader of Labour from 1955 to 1963. Yes I had to check on Wikipedia and I have a politics degree. 

Lawson believes that the EU is a political project first and an economic union second. That it creates both a democratic deficit and a bureaucratic surplus - which the UK could function better without. He is scathing of Cameron's chances of serious reform.

In response to a challenge, Lawson asserted firmly that Mandelson was wrong his support of the UK joining the Euro and he is wrong now (without any hint of irony given the Gaitskell riff). 

Mandelson, meanwhile, agrees that reform is needed, but ultimately believes the benefits of membership dramatically outweigh the the costs. He called on his own experience as an EU commissioner negotiating treaties and cited the UK's relative small size as a barrier to independent negotiating power, arguing, 'Without the EU we'd be settling on China, India & the US's terms.'

He also cited colleagues in Norway, who pay more to be part of the common market than we do but are informed of the rules without any scope for influencing the debate. Disconcertingly he is far more positive about Cameron's chances of negotiation that his Tory counterpart. 

Mandelson says he is no starry-eyed pro-European but a supporter for very pragmatic British reasons: because the EU makes us stronger, better off and safer. Especially compared to the risks and uncertainty of leaving.

Disappointingly there was no final vote, but in debate Mandelson was a little more modern, fleet of foot and business specific. My hunch is that he would have clinched it with the assembled directors, but we will never know.

Christine is a contributing editor of MT, owner of and a partner at Jericho Chambers. Find her on Twitter: @HannisArmstrong.

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