The famous monologue of Price Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play hung over the audience when the ABS -close to the British referendum on BREXIT- organized a most interesting, challenging and lively debate where conflicting standpoints clashed in several rounds of foil fencing.
Four eminent personalities, all genuine British, debated for two hours the intricacies of whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union.
Two former Ambassadors with vast experience in the political field, a political scientist and a prominent businessman electrified the audience -we had again Full House- by their pointed and sometimes emotional arguments on a subject which might very well decide the fate of the United Kingdom.
The main argument of the BREXIT camp cantered around the assertion that the Union has been deeply flawed from the beginning, is not democratic in any way, the “whole project is not happy” and first and foremost that “Britain does not want to be bullied around” any longer by Brussels bureaucrats. The EURO has been a dismal failure and Britain is fortunate not to be part of it.
The “Remain-camp” pointed to the irreparable political and especially economic damage BREXIT would cause to the country. The European Union has been fundamentally intended as a peace project and a political union and not-as the critics would have it – as a free trade area.
The moderator - while observing strict neutrality on the substance of the debate - introduced the subject by recalling Cameron’s famous or rather infamous speech in January 2013 where he promised to hold a referendum not later than 2017 and the ensuing negotiations with the European Commission granting Britain certain exemptions from the European Treaties. The meaning and consequence of Art. 50 of the European Treaty was explained and the alternatives for the United Kingdom after it had left, enumerated.
The audience enthusiastically participated in the exchange of arguments. A popular vote at the beginning of the evening showed an overwhelming support for Britain to remain, only six against and a few undecided. A second vote at the end surprisingly brought a slight increase of the sceptics - it therefore seemed that some of the BREXIT arguments had fallen on fertile ground.
All in all a fascinating and rewarding evening for those present-and a missed opportunity for all others.
The Austro-British Society has again demonstrated beyond any doubt that it stands out in all friendship societies in Austria and its small membership fee is well invested indeed.