EU Referendum Debate
With the EU referendum just days away, Herts and Essex were delighted to welcome four guest speakers to attend our student-organised debate: Joel Charles from the In campaign, Philip Foster from the Leave campaign, Mione Goldspink from the Liberal Democrats and Mark Hughes from UKIP. This mix of beliefs and backgrounds created a lively and enriching debate.
The chairman, Joseph Thomas, kicked off by asking how our trade will be affected by an exit from the union. The In campaigners stated that our trade would suffer overall and, though for the individual lower taxes may seem like a great deal, this would mean less money to the government and less spent on essentials, such as the NHS. Joel Charles insisted that in an increasingly globalised world “together means prosperity” and to isolate ourselves can only do harm. In fact, those pro Remain pointed out that almost every economic institution such as The British Treasury, The Bank of England, the IMF, the OECD and many more have predicted that leaving the EU would negatively impact Britain’s ability to trade and its overall GDP. The long term picture was presented as a key concern for the In campaigners. In contrast, Mark Hughes, a Leave campaigner, believed that as “a free and independent people” our economy should be based on what we can provide for ourselves and about our independence. He also believed that the recent collapse of the British steel industry was a sign of our economy being based more on what the EU wants than what is best for us.
The questioning then moved on to how poorer parts of the UK would be affected by Brexit. Goldspink highlighted the fact that currently farmers, fisherman, university students and the many deprived families in our country, among others, are currently given financial aid by the government. This aid is not guaranteed following a Brexit which Goldspink believes could easily lead to failings in the fishing and farming industries and the further deprivation of poorer communities. However, Philip Foster and Mark Hughes both went on to state that due to the freedom of movement that the EU imposes on us, an influx of immigration into the UK worsens prospects for fishers, farmers and poorer people, not to mention that resources, jobs, education and other essential services are being more thinly spread to serve a growing population. Immigration, as anyone who has followed the wider EU referendum coverage will know, has become a very divisive topic and has become a key selling point for the Leave campaign. All our speakers, however, were keen to maintain that immigration in itself can benefit us as long as it is ‘good’ immigration which the speakers believed was about controlled entry for skilled workers.
Along with immigration the issue of refugees was addressed; Foster told us that he thought that the refugee crisis had been unfairly linked to immigration and expressed his belief that more refugees should be brought to the UK as they are the most desperate in our society.
Perhaps one of the most relevant grievances in the room was addressed after this: the question as to why 16 and 17 year olds cannot vote despite our membership to the EU having more of a lasting impact on young people. Again the speakers were united in their stance and all believed under 18s should have had the vote. Hughes spoke about the importance of staying politically engaged and the key role younger people play in encouraging democracy. He believed that “democracy is vital and therefore we should exercise it.”
Another very significant concern was that of safety outside the EU. The In campaigners, Charles and Goldspink, picked up on the fact that major groups such as MI5 and MI6 rely on shared information across the EU and that to leave the union was to put this “complex co-operation” at risk. On the other hand, Foster pointed out that “we are a civilised society- we share information” and that no society would deny another country information that was critical to their safety. The Leave campaigners believed that a global police force was vital to security but that this can be achieved inside or outside of the EU.
With this, we wrapped up the informative and rather entertaining hour with closing statements from all our panellists. Joel Charles reiterated his stance that “the path to prosperity is not through isolation under Brexit.” With Goldspink largely agreeing that although the EU has “some imperfections”, we need to play our part in order to bring peace and stability to our world. Philip Foster had a rather bleak view for the EU’s future, believing that it would continue to deteriorate and within 5 years wold “sink economically”. Mark Hughes echoed this and also added that we deserve “a world of no limits” and believes we can once again become “a free and independent people that inspire the world.”
Overall, both campaigns were very compelling and each made for thought provoking listening however we left it up to our Year 12 audience and staff to determine who won our debate and our ballots ultimately showed that a majority of 65.8% were in favour of remaining in the EU compared to 34.2% who were convinced to leave. Although there is a clear majority, many were surprised at how close it was as we are often told rather definitively that young people will vote to remain. The main message many people took away from the debate is that even though most of us cannot vote we are not entirely voiceless. Political interest and participation is not futile as no matter what the result from the referendum eventually turns out to be on June 23rd our ability to make a significant impact cannot be understated and neither can the significance of this decision.
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