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The panel at Mayfield School

Independent schools debate EU membership

Schools invite guest speakers and hold mock referendums to debate 'Brexit'

Posted by Stephanie Broad | May 27, 2016 | School life

As the EU referendum approaches, schools have been giving their students the chance to weigh up the information and have their say – even if they aren’t quite old enough to vote.

Plymouth College’s Politics Society recently opened the floor two MPs to present the arguments for and against staying in the EU. The school is holding a mock referendum in June.

First up was the MP for South West Devon, Gary Streeter.  Supporting the vote to stay in, he talked about three main areas – freedom and sovereignty, peace, and trade.  A lively Q&A followed with questions such as ‘If we stay, do we have to join the Euro?’; ‘What impact would leaving the EU have on scientific research funding?’ and ‘Is the question really “Leave or deeper integration” rather than “Leave or remain”?’.

Tom Pursglove addresses Plymouth College

The next session was with Tom Pursglove, MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire.  His main points for leaving were ‘We’d have £300m each week to spend on priorities such as the NHS’; ‘We’d regain control of 200 miles of coastal waters for fishing’; ‘We’d still be able to trade with the US, India and China’ and ‘Immigration would be fairer with no priority for Europeans.’

“We are very grateful to Gary and Tom for sharing their thoughts with us on the EU Referendum,” said Head of History and Politics, Ed Beavington.  “The large audiences we had for both talks highlights how inspired the students are by the debate. Gary and Tom did an excellent job of developing the arguments ready for our school mock referendum on 23rd June.”

At Benenden School in Kent, renowned political journalist and commentator Matthew Parris was guest speaker at a sixth form dinner, where he offered students, staff and parents his thoughts on the potential repercussions of the referendum.

He said that whichever way the vote went, David Cameron would endure a tough time from his party, arguing that the Prime Minister would have to resign immediately in the event of a Leave vote but also warned of the bitterness that could follow a Remain vote. He said: “There will be murder within the Conservative Party to get rid of Cameron as a revenge for winning the Referendum vote.”

On the allegations of ‘Project Fear’ – the accusations that the Remain campaign are using scare tactics to win the Referendum – he said: “Project Fear stops you falling off a cliff. It’s not necessarily wrong to warn people of the consequences that affect them.”

Matthew Parris meets with Benenden School students

Parris was critical of Boris Johnson’s credentials as a future Prime Minister and said he would prefer George Osborne to succeed Mr Cameron, despite the Chancellor suffering from what he called a “personality problem”. He also said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, despite the largely negative media coverage he has received, stood a chance of winning the next general election.

Benenden School Headmistress, Samantha Price, said: “Matthew Parris was a marvellously entertaining speaker who was incredibly thought-provoking and offered us first-hand insight into the fascinating world of politics.

“The sheer volume of questions from girls showed how interested they were - despite what we often hear about young people - and how politically engaged girls at Benenden are. We are incredibly grateful to Mr Parris for sharing his thoughts with us and will watch with interest to see how many of his predictions become reality over the next few months.”

Mayfield School played host to a debate on the EU, which attracted an audience of around 100 girls, teachers, parents and members of the local community.

Sir Tim Chessells, who has worked for the Government as Chairman of a Regional Health Authority and then The Legal Aid Board, chaired the debate between Gerard Fox, former member of the Conservative Party, Nick Hopkinson, former director of Wilton Park both want to remain in the EU and David Wilkson, of the Bruges Group, and Nigel Jones, UKIP, who are in favour of leaving the EU.

The four speakers opened the debate by each presented their arguments before taking questions from the floor.

Head of Politics at Mayfield School, Ms Bryan, said: “The ensuing discussion was lively and at times heated but most importantly helped clarify the views of the audience and in some cases led them to change their minds!”

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