EU Referendum – Royal Holloway Students’ Union Big Debate


It goes without saying that the European question is one of the most important we will face in our lifetimes, so joining in with the blanket media coverage, Insanity Radio is getting involved! The Students’ Union here at Royal Holloway held a debate on Tuesday the 24th of May to give the opportunity for students to hear the arguments from both sides in a sparring match that grew increasingly heated as it wore on. Held in the SU Main Hall, there was a fantastic turnout with the majority of seats filled both by campaigners from either side or those of us who are undecided. It is a testament to the versatility of students that despite the relatively serious tone of the debate that was about to start, many of the audience including myself and even members of the panel and campaign groups had taken the opportunity to nip to the bar beforehand.

Opening remarks were given by the College Principle, Paul Layzell and the debate was chaired by Chloe Costa of the Debating Society. Speaking for the Remain side were Robert King, President of the RHUL Labour and Cooperative Society, and Richard Brooks, Vice-President of Union Development at the NUS. Alex Balkan, Vote Leave coordinator for Runnymede and Weybridge spoke for the Leave camp, aided by Christian Egglishaw of the RHUL Conservative Society who filled in at the very last minute for Alex Nieora (GLA Candidate for Ealing) who was delayed due to traffic.

Principle Layzell opened the debate with an impassioned speech that drew on his experience of being just a month too young to vote in the previous European referendum in 1975, and our college’s founding purpose of educating women to advance the suffragette movement and implored students to register to vote, arguing that it would be an insult to those that had quite literally ‘given their blood’ to secure voting rights for us.
After a brief introduction by Chloe Costa, the debate began in earnest with speeches from both sides. Robert King of Remain spoke first, drawing on his family’s example of having benefitted from European trade and claiming that we as students would lose out on a number of benefits such as the ERASMUS programme should we leave. In what was probably his strongest performance in a debate that was gradually to become more uncomfortable for Alex Balkan of Leave, he argued it possible to be both Pro-European but anti-EU, pointing out his Bosnian and Tunisian heritage whilst attacking the EU’s effect on national sovereignty. Further statements were made by the more relaxed Brooks (Remain) that pointed out that 15% of research funding in UK universities comes from the EU and that it protected civil rights, with Egglishaw (Leave) countering that 7 countries in the EU constitutionally ban same-sex marriage.

Being an audience of students, it is natural that the audience was as a collective going to be more left-leaning than one made of the general population, and as such the debate was always going to require more work from the ‘Leave’ campaign. It is far easier to debate for sticking with the status-quo in almost any argument than it is to argue for change and – for want of a better phrase – for a step into what some call the ‘unknown’. Even so it must be said that the Remain camp appeared to put up a better argument. Although aided by said easier argument, this was as much down to a more laid-back delivery style from Richard Brooks as it was Robert King’s more confrontational one. One thing that struck me as absent from the debate were arguments that reflected the impact on those from less well-off backgrounds, be them through low income or through living in poorer areas of the UK. Both sides, perhaps more so Remain, predominantly discussed what I would label the middle-class consequences of the referendum. The debate closed with pleas from both sides for students to make sure they have registered to vote.

Throughout the debate the audience had the opportunity to vote for themselves on an SU poll. The results at the end showed a 78%-22% win for Remain that only increased in margin as more people switched on to the fact the poll existed. Interestingly, it gave a far stronger victory for Remain than a poll taken in a similar debate I attended last term put on by the PIR department. The Remain team (very smugly) congratulated themselves in the aftermath, and I can only presume the Leavers consoled themselves with (only just) not having suffered a complete washout in the poll. Both sides stuck around to answer further questions from the audience and each other. For me, my dinner and a beer was calling me home, but Insanity’s very own future Station Manager Charlotte Mason on her show Lunchtime with Lottie at 12:00 on Thursday will be playing excerpts from the interviews she conducted after the debate with panel members. Should you miss it, they will be available on her podcast on the Insanity Mixcloud.
As stated by Principle Layzell and both sides of the panel, the most important thing to take from this debate was a sense of the importance of the upcoming referendum. It would be incredibly easy for me to bore readers with the ins and outs of the arguments, but no. I encourage you all to investigate this for yourselves. Just remember, there are very few truly unbiased sources – especially on the internet. Read the arguments from both sides, find the facts yourself (if they exist), and make your decision as such.
Oh yeah, and then don’t forget to vote!

The Insanity Radio 103.2FM coverage of the EU Referendum Debate held by Royal Holloway’s Student’s Union can be found on the Insanity Radio Mixcloud account here.

The Propaganda
Advice on voter registration and the vote itself

–Words by Calum McGrath