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Debate Rages On Both Sides Before UK Vote On EU Exit


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A big debate rages in Britain. Should they stay in the European Union or leave? Yesterday in London, President Obama took a side.


BARACK OBAMA: Speaking honestly, the outcome of that decision is a matter of deep interest to the United States because it affects our prospects as well. The United States wants a strong United Kingdom as a partner. And the United Kingdom is at its best when it's helping to lead a strong Europe.

SIMON: Two brothers, both private business owners, join us now. Ian Baxter believes Britain ought to stay in the EU. Nigel Baxter wants out. They're speaking to us from BBC Studios in Nottingham. Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

IAN BAXTER: Pleasure.

NIGEL BAXTER: Good afternoon.

SIMON: As I probably don't have to tell you, Baxter brothers, elite opinion, as they call it in the United Kingdom, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory is all we ought to stay in the European Union. This is a bad time for elite opinion in many sectors of the world, isn't it?

N. BAXTER: I think it is. I think we are seeing - the British public, I think, will regale against that, but also in the rest of the European Union we're seeing a huge amount of discontent in terms of the workings of the EU. And I think one of the things that we might see as a result of a Brexit is some contagion in Europe, the call for referendum in their own countries...

SIMON: Is this Ian or Nigel speaking?

N. BAXTER: This is Nigel here. One of the problems with the EU is that when you look at it, whilst it's 500 million people, it's hugely important from a trade perspective. It is not functioning very well. It has got no growth. It is completely stagnant. It is a huge unemployment issue. Youth unemployment in places like Spain is approaching 50 percent. We have a huge problem with migration, which is very difficult to deal with under the current rules of this Schengen Agreement. And I wouldn't be surprised if we're not talking about the disintegration of the European Union within the next few years.

I. BAXTER: Exactly, and that's what concerns me. Don't forget that whilst the EU is imperfect and has lots of problems that it needs to solve, what it's also done is helped facilitate changes in Europe. For example, when the Eastern Bloc countries came out of the Soviet Union, the European Union provided them with a home that promoted democracy, human rights and market economies. And that has worked.

SIMON: Let me ask this of both of you. I have British friends who say that no matter how close they are to Europe geographically, they - there are just more cultural ties between Britain and the U.S. and Canada and they don't feel an emotional connection to Europe. Does that enter into this?

N. BAXTER: Well, I think that there's a lot of truth in that, to be honest with you. Obviously we've, you know...

SIMON: This is Nigel?

N. BAXTER: ...This is Nigel, sorry, yes. You know, we're sharing language, of course, so that's a big thing for us. You know, we have got great friends in Europe. We enjoy visiting and enjoying their culture, but I don't see a common - particularly common thread between us in the sense that you're talking.

SIMON: Ian Baxter.

I. BAXTER: I understand your point and we absolutely - we love you guys. But the truth is...

SIMON: We love you too, but (laughter) but go ahead.

I. BAXTER: The truth is, though, that we, you know, geographically we live in Europe. And these people are our neighbors. And, you know, I want to just pick back up on this question of, you know, keeping the peace and what happens if we leave. You know, on matters of trade, for example, we could see beggar-thy-neighbor kind of policies going on in Europe. And that's not what I want to see. I think cooperation, even though it's a difficult thing, is always going to be better.

N. BAXTER: Scott, just to come back on that if I may.

SIMON: Yes, Nigel.

N. BAXTER: This is the hysteria that we're starting to get then on trade. So what we're saying is, is a Bloc of countries of which we would have left, which has virtually double the amount of trade to the U.K. that we have to them, is going to enter into a destructive trade war in order to beggar-thy-neighbor, to use Ian's words. I mean, that is complete nonsense in my view.

We will have, of course, to work out the detail, but the realities of life are that we will, I suspect, in the short period of time, have come to terms with the exit and our markets and trade will continue much as if we had never noticed it before.

SIMON: How are you guys getting along?

I. BAXTER: Actually, we've spent a lot of time with each other recently because of doing things like this radio interview. And believe it or not, you know, we're getting along good.

N. BAXTER: It's fine, Scott. You know how it is younger brothers. You may have one. You know, they're not easy. But, you know, you have to - you can suffer them, you know? They're not often right either, but, you know, we can listen to them.

SIMON: Nigel Baxter is CEO of RH Commercial Vehicles, his brother, Ian, is CEO of Baxter Freight - both joining us from BBC Studios in Nottingham. Thanks so much for being with us.

I. BAXTER: Pleasure.

N. BAXTER: Yeah, thanks very much. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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