Big questions for George Freeman and Steve Baker as EU debate reaches Future50 firms

The Future50 EU debate event taking place in Norwich Shirehall. The EDP's Annabelle Dickson hosting

The Future50 EU debate event taking place in Norwich Shirehall. The EDP's Annabelle Dickson hosting George Freeman speaking for REMAIN and Steve Baker speaking for LEAVE. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

They may be small businesses but the Future50 class of 2016 had big questions for political leaders on both sides of the EU referendum debate.

The Future50 EU debate event taking place in Norwich Shirehall. The EDP's Annabelle Dickson hosting

The Future50 EU debate event taking place in Norwich Shirehall. The EDP's Annabelle Dickson hosting George Freeman speaking for REMAIN and Steve Baker speaking for LEAVE. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

Will Britain be more competitive in a global market? Are small businesses safer in the EU? And is it wrong to say the UK is too small to negotiate trade deals for itself?

These were some of the questions put to Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, speaking for the Remain campaign, and Wycombe MP Steve Baker for Leave, at a debate held in Norwich Castle's historic Shirehall.

Grant Hardy, managing director of technology firm Liquid 11 and a supporter of the Leave campaign, said Britain would be more competitive in a global market.

'We have been in the EU for more than 40 years,' he said. 'So far Europe hasn't worked particularly well for us. The arguments from the Remain campaign are about uncertainty but the general consensus is we don't get facts we just get scaremongering.'

The Future50 EU debate event taking place in Norwich Shirehall. The EDP's Annabelle Dickson hosting

The Future50 EU debate event taking place in Norwich Shirehall. The EDP's Annabelle Dickson hosting George Freeman speaking for REMAIN and Steve Baker speaking for LEAVE. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

And with the economies in countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece struggling, he said: 'Isn't it more uncertain to stay in the EU than come out?'

However Mr Freeman, also minister for life sciences, said: 'If we want to grow our economy and pay off our debts, we need a European economy that's growing.

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'It is our biggest trading partner. It is not in our interest for it to fail. We want to be in there for reform.'

He added the danger was Britain could lose investment to other countries. 'Nothing will change legally the day after the referendum but other countries will see this country is out of the European single market,' he said.

The Future50 EU debate event taking place in Norwich Shirehall. The EDP's Annabelle Dickson hosting

The Future50 EU debate event taking place in Norwich Shirehall. The EDP's Annabelle Dickson hosting George Freeman speaking for REMAIN and Steve Baker speaking for LEAVE. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

David Cato, founder of Wearable Concepts – which hopes to become a Future50 business – said: 'Is it possible the UK would be more agile out of the EU? The EU is very protectionist against the rest of the world.

'If we can control our own tariffs we are in a better position to buy from China and export to the EU.'

Mr Baker, a leading Brexit campaigner, said: 'It is wrong to suggest our country is too small to negotiate for itself.'

Among those who were not swayed by the Leave arguments was Extremis Technology managing director Julia Glenn, who said: 'Our trade is mostly beyond Europe but I think we would feel safer as a business by being in the EU and part of a regulated Europe.'

Nwes chief executive Kevin Horne praised the elevated level of debate, but said staying in was the least risky option.

'A lot of businesses welcome immigration because they are finding it difficult to recruit into positions they have available,' he said. 'We need migration to enable business to succeed.'

Have you got a business story? Email sabah.meddings@archant.co.uk

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