Silence from the panel over the issue of border controls

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Politicians are usually a garrulous lot, but when faced with a question about the impact the Paris atrocities will have on border controls, an otherwise vocal All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group panel fell silent.

The debate held in Westminster on Monday afternoon heard from three Eurosceptics and two pro-Europeans.

Before Blackfriar asked this question the panel had been enjoying a heated debate on the European Union and the impact a UK exit would have on British manufacturers.

The conclusion was that manufacturers who export to Europe would prefer to stay in the EU while those that don’t would prefer to get out.

But the thorny question of border controls left the panel flummoxed

Only Terry Scuoler, CEO of manufacturing body EEF, had the guts to even answer the question.

He said: “I don’t think we know. I simply do not know. It would be a leap in the dark.

“It’s a huge, huge question mark that no-one can answer.”

Chairman of the panel, Chris Green, the Conservative MP for Bolton West, tried to close down the debate saying: “It’s not helpful to pursue this any further.”

He then asked the previously vocal eurosceptic Matthew Elliot, CEO of Business for Britain, if he would like to comment, but he just shook his head.

Eurosceptics Alan Halsall, former owner of Skipton-based pram maker Silver Cross, and Christopher Nieper, managing director of luxury women’s clothing firm David Nieper, also refused to comment, as did pro-European John Patsavellas of Altro Flooring.

Apart from Mr Scuoler, who is highly regarded in this field, not one of the other panellists would say a word.

Their avoidance of the question highlights just how thorny this issue will prove to be over the coming months.

The Parisian attacks have raised serious questions about a borderless Europe reintroducing borders following the news that at least one of the Parisian suicide bombers claimed to be a refugee from Syria.

Critics from across the political spectrum are now saying it is time to review the Schengen rules that allow passport-free travel across the EU.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, the former ​independent reviewer of counter-terrorism ​legislation, ​has ​said Paris was the end of Schengen.

​“​It’s now unrealistic​,” he added, pointing out that what happened in Paris could easily happen in the UK.

Meanwhile, it is widely understood that France will call for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement on open borders across Europe at a summit on Friday.

It is thought that France’s president Francois Hollande will lead a call for other EU members to start border identity checks inside the free movement zone.

​The closing of borders is not an issue that can just be dismissed as “not helpful”.

It is highly likely to become a reality and we should not avoid its impact on both migration and the free movement of goods – something that is vital for Britain’s manufacturers.

As Mr Scuoler points out, it’s a huge question mark that no-one can answer.

When is a debate not a debate?

Journalists know that we have to be impeccably fair when reporting two sides of a debate in a news story. Both sides need to be given an equal say and an equal opportunity to get their point across.

Comment pieces like this are different. We are allowed to vent our opinions when we write a comment piece.

I’d like to ask the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group why they put up a panel of six people that included four Eurosceptics, one pro-European and one non-committal sponsor.

Four against one seems a little unfair, even if that one is the highly vocal Terry Scuoler.

These debates will become increasingly important over the coming months and it is vital that both sides are given a fair say.