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EU Referendum Debate

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four Photos: Clockwise from top-left: David Campbell Bannerman MEP, Lord Richard Balfe, Dr Julian Huppert, and Stewart Jackson MP

With just a day left in which to register to vote in the biggest decision to face the country in decades, we look back on the Homerton Union of Students’ recent debate on Brexit.

JCR President Ruth Taylor invited David Campbell Bannerman MEP and Stewart Jackson MP to speak in favour of Brexit, with Dr Julian Huppert and Lord Balfe arguing for membership of the European Union.

David Campbell Bannerman MEP kicked off proceedings, portraying the choice of the Referendum as a choice between being a member of a superstate or retaining UK sovereignty. Campbell Bannerman has been Conservative MEP for the East of England since 2011, and drew on this experience to argue that the financial, sovereign, and bureaucratic costs of remaining an EU member outweighed the benefits.

Lord Richard Balfe, a Labour MEP from 1979 and now Conservative Peer, denounced the argument of losing sovereignty, saying it was “redolent of the 1950s”. He called instead for an outward-looking, welcoming Britain, open to innovation and to the future. Lord Balfe also said that the contribution of immigrants to the UK had been enormous, and that to damn immigration is to dangerously shift the focus of the debate.

Stewart Jackson, Conservative MP for Peterborough, spoke next. He claimed that the EU’s pro-regulation and high-tax attitudes made it an “analogue institution in the digital age”. Jackson warned that voting to remain was not voting for the status quo, asserting that EU might do away with the principle of habeas corpus, and that the EU is a “racist and discriminatory” institution, which “stifles third world agriculture”. Voting to leave the EU would allow the UK, said Jackson, to “spend money on our priorities [and regain] control of our own immigration policy”.

Last to speak was Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge until 2015. Dr Huppert outlined the five reasons he considered most compelling to stay in the European Union; EU membership would confer prosperity, opportunity, peace, environmental protection, and security. Conceding that the EU could be improved, Dr Huppert stressed that this was not an argument for leaving, and that the best way towards reform was to be a part of the discussion. Abandoning partisanship momentarily, Julian concluded by exhorting all in the room to register to vote (though he of course stressed voting to remain!).

Until this point, the students had gathered to patiently wait out the arguments laid before them. Once Dr Huppert had given the final speech, however, the floor was opened for incisive and searching questions to be asked by the audience. The likelihood of legislative vacuums, environmental reforms, and Scottish independence referenda upon Brexit were all raised, and some students directly challenged individual speakers on the content of their speeches.

The flowing and lively debate was chaired by JCR President, Ruth Taylor, who said that “young people need to make their voices heard now through the ballot box”. Judging by the excellent turnout and engagement with this debate, that certainly looks likely to happen on 23 June.

You can register to vote in the EU Referendum at: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

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