Keynsham teens' call for votes on EU wins support at debate

Published on: 04 Jun 2016

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It was a full house at The Space in Keynsham as the venue hosted a debate between six speakers from across the political spectrum on Britain’s membership of the EU on May 27.

Held just weeks before the country votes to remain in or leave the European Union on June 23, chair Lisa O’Brien said the event had a waiting list that could have filled the room two times over.

For the “remain” campaign, it brought together Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire, B&NES Labour leader Robin Moss and Bath businessman Jay Risbridger, co-ordinator for Britain Stronger in Europe.
Speaking for Brexit on the other side of the panel were North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, former UKIP parliamentary candidate for the constituency Ernest Blaber and Ian Kealey, Somerset co-ordinator for the Grassroots Out campaign.

To start the debate, each speaker was asked to explain the single most important point that had shaped their view on whether Britain should stay or remain.

For Brexit, Ian Kealey said he felt it was vital that Britain did not “throw away” its democracy, citing a lack of public involvement in EU law and decision making. Mr Blaber said his major concern was the creation of a federal “superstate” by stealth, saying that Britain did not share the experiences of other countries ruled by dictators in the past, who might feel that “anything is better”. Mr Rees-Mogg said Europe was a “failed state”, pointing to high youth unemployment in a number of countries, and crises with the Euro and migration.

For “remain”, Mr Risbridger said he felt it was a more efficient way to trade as a member of the EU with workers and consumers benefiting from regulations on working conditions, safety and the environment. Mr Moss said that in a “shrinking world” it was better to face up to challenges as a collection of independent nation states working together. Ms Debbonaire said the most important issue in her view was the future of younger generations and their opportunity to study, live and work where they chose as well as the peace between countries that had been maintained since the 1940s.

Opinions were plentiful but hard facts and figures seemed harder to come by with speakers quoting conflicting statistics on the number of UK laws originating in the EU and varying views on the economic impact of either remaining or staying. 

Questions from the audience covered a wide range of topics including farming subsidies, free trade with non-European countries, the possibility of a European army and the thorny issue of immigration, which caused raised voices on both sides of the divide within the audience as it was discussed.

On the financial benefits of staying or leaving the EU, Mr Moss perhaps summed it up for both campaigns with the words: “We just don’t know”, but one member of the public tried to bring the debate back to grassroots level, asking if he wanted to keep local services such as libraries, which way should he vote?

With both sides agreeing that the UK’s contribution to the EU stands at £8 billion a year, Mr Rees-Mogg said it would represent a “major saving”, and would be “one of the biggest cuts in the austerity programme since 2010”. Pointing to the billions of pounds spent on nuclear decommissioning and alcohol, as examples to “give some context”, Mr Risbridger said he felt the £8bn was “money well spent” on growth and development.

There were two very clear voices from Keynsham’s younger generation, too, with Millie Gregg and Steph Walker, the chair and secretary of youth council KeynshamNow respectively, giving their views on the EU debate.

Millie told the audience she felt it was “common sense” to remain, with many jobs linked to the EU and access to 500 million customers across the continent. She also questioned cutting ties with our “closest ally” in the face of raised terror threats and “limiting the freedoms” of the population when it came to travel.

Steph, however, branded the EU “anti-democratic” and asked if giving up the right to govern ourselves would be worth it. When it came to trade, being part of the EU cut us off from the rest of the world, she argued.

Of course, the evening was never going to bring about a consensus on whether Britain is better off in or out but there was one view that seemed to earn unanimous approval during the debate – lowering the voting age to 16, a call made by both young speakers to give them a voice in a referendum that will have far-reaching effects on their generation and future ones.

The referendum will be held on Tuesday, June 23, across Britain when voters will be asked: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

People must be registered to vote by June 7 to take part – go to gov.uk/register-to-vote

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