On Wednesday 27th of April the university organised a debate between whether we should vote to stay in or vote to leave the EU in 8 weeks time on June the 23rd. The event was organised by the guild president, Harry Anderson, and academics from the Politics department, Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Erika Harris. Tickets for the event were so high in demand that the organisers had to move the event to a bigger venue, a lecture theatre in the Rendall building.
The debate involved a host and two speakers, one in favour of each side. The host was head of the politics department, Stuart Wilks-Heeg, the two speakers were Yasmin Gasimova, a second year Philosophy and Computer Science student and Jasper Miles, a Politics PHD student, who previously studied BA History and Politics.
Stuart began the debate by introducing the speakers and asking them three questions; their favourite place in the EU, their preferred holiday destination, and an animal to represent what the EU is to them. Yasmin said:
“My favourite place is Tallinn in Estonia, my ideal holiday destination was Luxembourg and my animal to represent the EU is a bee because they take a bit of nectar from each flower, but is essential for all the flowers to grow.”
Jasper said “My favourite place is Norfolk and my preferred holiday destination is Malta. I would say that a leech represents the EU because it sucks up sovereignty and democracy.”
The debate then consisted of the two speakers each doing a 10-15 minute piece on their opinion, followed by questions and debate amongst the audience. Yasmin began with her argument which was in favour of staying in the EU.
Yasmin began with her motivations stating:
“I am a devout environmental socialist, with liberation and human rights at the core of my principles.”
On the topic of borders, Yasmin said:
“We have full control of our borders, and we can even reject EU citizens on public policy, health, or security grounds. No, we cannot stop fellow EU citizens residing and working in our country – but with our increasingly ageing population, we have a growing need for migrants’ taxes to relieve the strain on welfare. I’m sure all of you are aware that the ‘welfare tourist’ is a myth – and migrants produce a net benefit to the country’s GDP.”
Yasmin also addressed the idea that the EU is undemocratic, saying:
“The only unelected body is the European Commission, who are still chosen by your elected representatives, and can only propose legislation while the elected Parliament has to debate and pass it.”
Yasmin admitted the EU has some problems, such as imposing TTIP, she said:
“There can still be problems, as for example, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership poses a huge threat to our health and our environment. It would permit foreign companies to sue governments for restricting sales, as well as undermine our international efforts to tackle climate change. However, our current government would not save us from TTIP.”
On the topic of the economy and trade, Yasmin argued:
“Our membership of the EU puts us in favourable trade agreements with the rest of the world. A Brexit would mean having to renegotiate 52 bilateral trade deals, which the Treasury has estimated would lose the UK £36bn over 15 years.”
Yasmin believes that the EU does a lot for the environment that the current government does not:
“EU laws we have cleaned the sewage off our beaches, the sulphur from our rain and the smog from our air. Our government has an appalling record on tackling environmental issues, and I do not trust them to take an international crisis like this seriously alone.”
Yasmin stressed the importance of human rights acts the EU has implemented:
“Trade Unions representing 6 million workers support our membership of the EU because of its vital work towards protecting workers rights such as the 48 week, maternity and paternity rights. The EU also provides essential protections from discrimination based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief.”
Yasmin summed up her argument by saying:
“The UK is certainly stronger when united with half a billion people. If reforms are necessary within the EU, we should act to change them, not quit and risk losing something so important and ground-breaking in history.”
Jasper began his argument by stating that
“Yasmin made a good speech but clearly I fundamentally disagreed with every word.”
“I used to be an EU fanatic and even wrote an essay during my A levels in favour of the UK converting to the Euro. I now, however, see the EU as undemocratic. For example its measures imposed on Greece which caused austerity are an example of it taking away a nation-state’s sovereignty and the EU as a neo-liberal organisation.”
Jasper believes that Britain does not belong in the EU, he said:
“Britain has a completely different history, culture and identity to the rest of the continent, for example, it has not experienced a fascist take over or been defeated at world war.”
“Euro-sceptics are often viewed as right-wing, ignorant and holding 18th century views. This isn’t always true. There are plenty of moderate euro-sceptics on the left and right and I would pride himself as a labour supporter. Gisela Stuart as an example, was sent to Brussels by Tony Blair to draw up the European Constitution and came back with the view that we shouldn’t be in the EU. I don’t agree with EU-apologists. They see the EU burdens as unfortunate but would rather be in the EU than left out in the cold.”
Jasper, like Yasmin, also brought up the issue of migration:
“From my experience door knocking in South Yorkshire, I have found that the public are deeply concerned about migration. Cheap foreign labour depresses wages. British people’s wages have been undercut by the increasing influx of immigrants. Studies have shown that for the lowest earners in Britain, immigration has had a small but significantly negative impact on wages. Not only this but the EU has also caused food prices to increase.”
On the subject of trade Jasper said:
“Trade will not be effected by leaving the EU. The UK is the 5th largest economy outside of the EU, trade will definitely continue.”
Unlike Yasmin, Jasper believes the EU is undemocratic:
“Britain must leave in order to reclaim sovereignty and democracy back from unelected bureaucrats and bankers. In contrast, the UK parliament is democratic, if we dislike a government, we have the power to kick them out every 5 years.”
He finished by encouraging the audience to vote to leave, stating:
“We must take control of our own destiny as British people.”
At the end of the debate, after the audience discussed and asked questions, Stuart did a few polls. He decided from the debate that the issues constantly coming up were, democracy and sovereignty, immigration and the economy and trading relations. He asked for a poll, by a raising of hands, on what the audience thought was most important. Democracy and sovereignty got roughly 30 votes, immigration received roughly 5 votes, and the economy and trading relations received the rest, estimated 80.
At the end of the debate he asked for shows of hands on whether the audience would vote leave or stay in, there was a clear majority of the audience indicating they would vote to stay in the EU.