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Disenfranchised Voices: UK school and college students debate whether to remain or to leave the EU

Jake Perkins argues the UK should remain in the EU

Today the polls are open in one of the biggest decisions handed to the British electorate in history. A vote in a general election just decides on the government for up to five years but the vote on whether to stay in the EU could be a decision that lasts a lot longer. The last referendum on Europe was in 1975, 41 years ago, or half a lifetime so many voters may never again vote on Britain’s place in or out of Europe.

That long period of time is also why this referendum matters immensely to young people, even those who are not yet able to vote. Those who are 15, 16 or 17 are going to be just as affected by the result of the vote as anyone who is 18 or over, but they won’t have had a chance to influence the decision.  IDEA UK’s Disenfranchised Voices debate on Tuesday 21st, two days before polling day, was to help provide some redress. To provide a platform for young people to voice their opinions to those who will be voting today.

In the debate sixteen students from schools and colleges across London and England more widely debated Brexit. Students debated ‘Britain should leave the European Union’ with those arguing for leave focusing on economic and sovereignty arguments rather than migration. Viola Moss, from St James’ Girls School, contended that “Only the Continent of Antarctica has had worse growth than Europe” pointing out that this was in part because trade deals can be stalled by irrelevant issues, such as Romanian Visas.

Sovereignty on the other hand is an issue where leave often dominates. But here remain made the running with Sonya Woodruff making a barnstorming speech arguing that Boris and Gove, the leave campaign, are only concerned about democracy and sovereignty when it comes to the EU, not when it comes to the moribund House of Lords. While Jake Perkins pointed out “The EU does not tell us how to spend our budget, who does? NATO, that’s who.” They demand 2% of GDP be spent on defence.

The second debate on ‘Controlling migration from the European Union would increase security’ was shorter but also produced some fine speeches both in favour and against controlling migration. Those arguing for leave, such as Jasmine Phillip from Stanborough School took the nuanced line that they “Don’t want to stop immigration” but that greater control is necessary in an age where terrorism is a primary concern. There was also an ethical clash; for Martha Reilly and remain “the measures proposed by the Leave campaign are simply wrong” highlighting scare tactics about a flood of migrants. However leave countered that “to have a system of open borders you need to have economic equality. Our inequitable system means that one side gets mass immigration while the other gets a brain drain. Neither country gains.”

From our straw poll of the audience remain won over a few in the audience. But it is not the poll which matters. That is today. Whether you want to see Britain stay in the EU or leave get out and vote. It is unusual to get a chance to directly influence policy; there have only been 3 referendums in English history (4 in Scotland), make use of it. A bigger turnout is better for everyone; poor turnout and a close split would be the worst possibly result; one that does not end the questions. 

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