AFTER a series of open forums at Woking College debating whether we should stay in or leave the European Union ahead of the June referendum, an overwhelming majority of students elected to ‘remain’ in an internal ballot on Friday.
More than half the 1,300 youngsters are, or will be, over the age of 18 and eligible to have a say on their future when the time comes to vote.
Ahead of the college poll on Friday, guest speaker Woking Conservative MP Jonathan Lord gave a brief historical background on the EU before putting his case forward for why he is in the ‘Leave’ campaign.
He explained how we entered the Common Market in 1973 after a majority Parliamentary vote under Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath.
Mr Lord drew parallels with the dynamics in place today under Conservative PM David Cameron and those in 1975, when the then Labour PM, Harold Wilson, held a referendum on the European Common Market.
Both leaders wanted to stay in Europe. While two thirds of Mr Wilson’s Parliament wanted to leave, he decided to take the decision out of party politics and put it to the people’s vote. The referendum resulted in a 70% majority electing to stay in.
Likewise today, after the PM ‘failed to get a satisfactory deal’ with Europe, Parliament has been hugely divided. But again, it’ll be the people who will decide in the 23 June referendum. Mr Lord explained why he believes Britain should exit Europe and criticised the Government for spending £9 million of taxpayers’ money to leaflet households on remaining in Europe.
He said: “I have decided to come down firmly on the leave side. We give Europe £9 million more a day than we get back. The union is a federal structure, taking power from national governments and compromising our sovereignty.
“If we leave the EU, we will take back control of our laws and not be over-ruled by unelected decision makers. It is time we seized our destiny.”
Mr Lord is, however, realistic about the outlook of the polls and said: “Looking at this objectively, at the moment – like in 1975 – it looks as if the vote will go in favour of remain,” pointing out that a large percentage of the population is undecided and, as such, historically they will ‘slide into the status quo’.
Questions from the floor included asking Mr Lord whether 16 and 17-year-olds should be able to vote, to which he replied: “There is probably a stronger argument for them in the EU referendum.”
Student Jack Stokes (below) – who had earlier told the News & Mail: “We don’t trust the current government and I will be voting to stay,” – asked: “Should the Prime Minister resign if Britain exits the EU?”
Mr Lord replied: “We don’t want this to be a referendum about the PM. Even though many think he will leave, we have to go with the thought that he will stay. It is not a debate about David Cameron.”
Joe Mousley, who said he would be voting to leave, asked: “How might leaving Europe affect freedom of movement?
Mr Lord said “We are getting more than our fair share of people coming into the UK, which is more than our services can keep up with.”
The debates, organised by the college’s Director of Learning and Education Colin Barnard, kicked off earlier this month with Liberal Democrat Party Leader Tim Farron MP setting out his views on staying in Europe.
Then Wednesday last week saw three guests address students on the pros and cons of the EU. These inc-luded Brexit campaigner Conservative MEP David Campbell-Bannerman, along with former borough councillor Lib Dem Philip Goldenberg and David Harley from Britain Stronger in Europe argued that we should remain.
Discussions included the impact the outcome will have: on students going on to study at university in the UK and Europe; how it would effect the UK’s role on the world political stage; and the influence on immigrants already living in the UK.
A college spokesman said: “The debates have been lively and incisive. In our own EU poll with staff and students, the votes gave a clear indication (85%) think we should stay in.”