EU Debate with Tobias Ellwood MP
Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, today came into Bournemouth School for Girls to hold a debate and Q&A session with Sixth Form students from both the boys’ and girls’ school on the subject of the EU Referendum. Representing the Brexit Campaign were Ellie Mackin (BSG) and George Wright (BS), while Mr. Ellwood advocated remaining in the EU. The opposing parties spoke initially for seven minutes each, after which the floor was invited to put questions forward.
A propaganda campaign in Bournemouth School certainly galvanised interest in the debate. Posters of a semi-Brexit-glorifying nature were stuck up around the school and were successful in arousing and provoking arguments which were not just restricted to the Sixth Form. As a result, the debate attracted a large audience, filling BSG’s Drama Hall.
Mr. McDonald, the Head of the History Department at BSG, chaired the debate.
Mr. Ellwood was cordially welcomed to the venue, and then praised the debate on helping to cure the ignorance on the workings of the EU. His speech addressed the “huge consequences for Britain” if we were to vote leave. Chiefly, a Brexit would impact our global influence by hugely diminishing Britain as a player on the world stage: “we do not know what will happen if we leave, but we will lose influence”. He went on to suggest that Britain is partly to blame for the number of what many people perceive to be unnecessary laws imposed by the EU, as we did not make the effort early on in our membership to secure a greater influence. By remaining part of the EU, we would be able to extend the Prime Minister’s reforms and continue to reform the imperfect and admittedly flawed organisation. He conceded “it has its flaws: it’s not democratic, it’s not accountable and it’s not as competitive as it should be”, but elucidated the way to change this was by remaining and reforming. Mr. Ellwood also made the case for Britain being an outward and forward-looking country which historically has been looked upon by others to make decisions, and that “closing the lid” to the issues the EU faces is not doing justice to our international reputation.
Mackin, in supporting Brexit, put forward the proposal of adopting an Australian-styled points system so that discrimination was averted (an issue that she later had to defend when questioned by a member of the audience). “I’m all in favour of controlled immigration”, she stated, then speaking of the failure of the Conservative government to fulfil its promise of bringing net migration down to below 100,000, to argue the only way to properly establish controlled immigration was to leave the EU. She then elaborated on economic issues, stating that 80% of the economy is not linked with trade, the EU has slow growth and the UK’s economy, being the fifth largest in the world, would survive outside of the EU, qualifying this by stating we have seats on the UNSC, G7 and G20. She concluded by suggesting a Brexit would give Britain the ability to reinvest £350 million per week in hospitals and local services, instead of sending it to the EU, and seeing only half return in rebates.
Of the initial speeches, Wright spoke last, but only after doffing his blazer and flourishing it upon the back of his chair. Where his colleague and opposition had broadcast their sentiments from behind their tables, Wright employed a more physical approach , stepping forth to a space more able to sustain his wild and ferocious gesticulations and proceeded to parade up and down in front of the audience with great confidence. Of course, his gestures were not refined by the use of a script, as his anti-EU views were so deeply embedded that he was able to recite his speech from memory, leaving his hands free to wave and point, in doing so reinforcing the words he believed in so strongly. He argued, vociferously, that the EU has changed from a common market into “a fanatical political project”, and “the EU quashes the voice of the British people on the world stage”. To this, he went on, stating that 60% of our laws are made by the European Commission, which is unelected, and the bureaucratic, rubber stamp MEPs illustrate Europe’s lack of democratic accountability. The speech then turned to the subject of Turkey, where Wright argued there is a huge risk to allowing a country that bombs its own people into the EU, and made it quite clear that “Turkey WILL join the EU”. Brexit, as he summarised, is “a once in a lifetime opportunity to take control”.
After the three speeches came the floor debate. The general course of events was a question being put to one party, who would then address it, usually convolutedly, and the opposition would then offer an alternative viewpoint on it, often at length. It reflected the many recent debates on the topic, with tangential answers encompassing various examples and statistics.
There was certainly no ‘knockout blow’ offered by either party, leaving the question still very much open. Nonetheless, it was a valuable and informative debate. It was encouraging to see how many students showed an interest, despite not being able to vote in the referendum. BS and BSG give thanks to Tobias Ellwood MP for accepting the invitation to come and speak, and look forward to hosting similar events in the future.
Video footage of the opening speeches is available here:
Photographs: Jacob Bruchez and Ian Westhead.