Power in a Union? Labour students and Left Society host EU Debate

On Thursday 2nd June, Labour Students and the Left Society hosted a debate on University Park on the upcoming EU referendum. The debate tackled what the EU referendum will mean for the left wing, with each team being made up of students from the University.

Tom Roberts, Jordan Thorpe, and Sophie Vale formed the ‘Remain’ side of the argument, while Jacob Collier, Theodore Sharieff Winston and Matt Turner formed the opposition. The debate was moderated by Peter Radcliff, Chair of the Broxtowe Constituency Labour Party.

Moderator Peter Radcliff opened up with the argument of just how close all of the opinion polls are and that they are edging closer as 23rd June approaches. 

The participants then delivered their opening statements, highlighting some of the reasons why the UK should stay or leave the EU. The ‘Remain’ team led the way.

Jordan claimed that Britain has become stronger and changed for the better since joining the EU thanks to the freedom of movement laws and environmental regulations that are going to further drive Britain into the future if we stay.

“We must fight…or we will watch our continent will drift into chaos”

Sophie’s statement acknowledged the flaws within the EU but claimed that the only way those flaws can be changed is if Britain were to remain in the EU. “We’ve got to be in it to change it”, she said.

Tom’s following statement re-emphasised Sophie’s point that for the EU to change, Britain must remain part of it. “We must fight […] or we will watch our continent drift into chaos”.

The ‘Leave’ side then followed with their opening statements.

Jacob started by stating that the focus on immigration should not be the issue, but rather “democracy is the key point”. He focused on the role of MEPs and said that they cannot change the direction of the EU alone.

Matt’s statement followed. He said that a Corbyn-led government would seem more likely in 2020 if Britain were to leave the EU. He stated that to leave “truly is the best choice for all of us”.

“Democracy is the key point”

Theo argued that if Britain were to stay in the EU, workers and young people would still face problems.

The first issue that was raised was on the issue of immigration – namely of EU migrants who already live in the UK and whether they should be able to vote in the referendum.

‘Leave’ started the debate on this topic by asking whether the government really would “have the guts” to deport the EU migrants that already live here if Britain were to vote for a Brexit, especially at a time so tough for the economy.

They further supported the point that it is defeatist for the public to assume that Britain would end up like places such as North Korea or Zimbabwe.

“All three participants noted that no one has a crystal ball”

The ‘Leave’ group also argued that programmes such as Erasmus would still be in place if Britain were to leave the EU, as is the case in Norway.

However, all three participants noted that no one has a crystal ball and it is difficult to predict, especially in terms of how long negotiations could take.

It was agreed by both sides that it was a disgrace that EU migrants are unable to vote in the upcoming referendum.

The ‘Remain’ side raised the issue that the fact that EU migrants cannot vote suggests that this referendum has been turned into a nationalist one rather than one about the people of Britain.

The ‘Remain’ side also viewed the ‘Leave’ side’s statement on whether migrants would be allowed to stay in the country and their relation to depressed wages as a complete contradiction.

They argued that to claim that immigration is a good thing but then to bring up that it has led to depressed wages was a complete contradiction. They asserted that the ‘Leave’ side had no hard proof form of solution.

“This referendum has been turned into a nationalist one rather than one about the people of Britain”

The issue of EU students studying in the UK arose and the ‘Remain’ side argued that it was not fair on EU students who would be made to pay the full price to come and study here in the UK.

They argued it would create a barrier between working class students from across the continent and higher education.

The next topic of the debate was the privatisation of the public sector.

The issue of the NHS was included as one of the most central arguments, particularly the ‘Leave’ argument.

The ‘Leave’ side acknowledged that immigration does form the backbone of the NHS. However, they did argue that the system of employment within the NHS should be based on merit, in that it should be open to all people and not just limited to EU citizens.

The post-referendum economic model and policies was the third topic raised in the debate.

“[Employment in the NHS] should be open to all people and not just limited to EU citizens”

The ‘Leave’ group argued that it is a defeatist attitude to believe that Britain will end up with Johnson as leader and that a left wing government can only be guaranteed once Britain has broken from the EU.

They also argued that the rise of the Conservative party after a possible Brexit would be unlikely, due to the tensions growing within the party as a result of the referendum. They labelled it as an “implosion of the Tory party from within”.

The ‘Remain’ side countered their argument by stating that there is no guarantee that there will be a left wing gain if Britain were to leave the EU.

The ‘Remain’ side argued that economists predict that Britain would take a hit of 1.5% of its GDP and that if Britain were to leave the EU, it would only amplify the voice of austerity.

“We need to fight this narrative as much as possible”

They extended this point by stating that to leave would only increase the already too loud voice of the extreme right wing which has made immigrants central to their argument. “We need to fight this narrative as much as possible”, they argued.

The issue of internationalism and sovereignty then followed as the last topic for discussion.

The ‘Leave’ argument returned to the issue of economics and raised the point that EU trade only directly benefits Northern and Western Europe.

The ‘Leave’ side raised the issue of the turning away of refugees by many EU nations, including Britain, asking whether that should really be considered as internationalist.

This argument on the refugee crisis was countered by the ‘Remain’ side who argued that not allowing refugees to enter was the democratic will of those nations and that that democratic will of nations should not be prevented.

The ‘Remain’ side argued that there is a sense of optimism from countries such as Greece, who were in a sense failed by the EU, as in their case there seemed to be no alternative. The ‘Remain’ side also argued that this was almost the case with Britain.

“[The] democratic will of nations should not be prevented”

The ‘Leave’ team countered this by saying that the Greece example was not a good one, stating that in Greece the rights of workers were put down to the bottom. They also argued that it is silly to compare any two different EU nations.

The ‘Leave’ side closed by saying that they did not believe that it was right to assume that the right wing was rising, and that no matter what, austerity needs to be fought. They stated that the referendum has only become a clash of personalities and that is why so many people have been left so undecided.

“[Brexit] labelled as an “implosion of the Tory party from within””

The ‘Remain’ side’s closing statement argued that Britain should not be voting on hypothesis and that to leave would be to allow right wing groups to rise to power.

Their closing statements also called for the need to end austerity measures. Finally, they stated that they believed that the EU could be reformed.

Chelle Williams

Image: Chelle Williams

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