Sussex debates the EU Referendum

The University of Sussex has hosted debates and discussions on the EU Referendum both on and off campus, giving staff, students and the general public a chance to hear from big names in the 'Leave' and 'Remain' campaigns. Here's a recap of what every Brexiteer or Bremainer should know.

The Sussex Conversations: The EU Referendum - in or out?

Journalist Sarah Montague chaired the debate at our annual Sussex Conversations event about whether Britain should remain in the EU, with contributions from writers, politicians and business leaders. 

Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing opened the event by announcing that 82% of Sussex staff and students who took part in a recent University survey were in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.

The Sussex Conversations: The EU Referendum - in or out?

Michael Farthing opened the debate by explaining that the University had surveyed its staff and students on the EU referendum.  He announced that 82% of the staff and students who had completed the survey were in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.  
The debate was chaired by journalist Sarah Montague, who started by asking why so few young people were predicted to vote in the referendum, and what the University of Sussex's Students' Union was doing to make sure the student voice was heard.
Abraham Baldry, President of the Students' Union, responded that the University of Sussex's culture was one of "critical thinking and engaging with political issues". He noted that many Sussex students had voted in the general election, but added that young people generally felt disengaged with politics.
Graham Stringer MP argued that there was a lack of democracy in how the EU functioned, which was causing disengagement and the growth of extreme right- and left-wing parties across Europe.
He also suggested that a large part of the EU was 'an economic basket case' as a result of the introduction of the Euro.
Writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun replied that if Britain left the EU, "workers are more likely to be exploited. That’s not an attractive proposition to a young person.” 
He also stated that leaving the EU would be sending a clear signal that Britain was "shut for business", and added that Europe would be better equipped to handle the refugee crisis if countries worked closely together.
Jonathan Faull, Director of the European Commission's Task Force for Strategic Issues related to the UK Referendum, agreed with Eshun that the refugee crisis couldn't be resolved by individual countries - it was "a global problem needing a global solution."
Faull, a Sussex alumnus, also stressed the uncertainty Britain would face if it left the EU, at one point telling Montague that there was "no plan" for what would happen following a vote to leave.
Helena Morrissey CBE, an investment banker and campaigner for more women in leadership roles, was firmly in favour of leaving the EU.
Morrissey believes that British citizens could retain their employment rights and other benefits while benefiting from greater democracy if they voted to leave the union. Leaving wouldn't have to be a stormy divorce, she claimed; rather, it could be "a conscious uncoupling."
However, she thought that the Leave campaign had an image problem as it had become associated with an "anti-immigration, protectionist and ‘Little England’ view."
Lucy Thomas, Deputy Director of Britain Stronger in Europe, argued that leaving the union would damage the UK's universities: "The UK is the recipient of a large amount of research and development funding from the EU, and that is contingent on us making contributions to the EU budget.”
She also challenged the view that young people's voices were not being heard in the EU referendum debate, commenting that "Students are getting involved. They do want to take part. We had 250 events last weekend right across the country.”
Lastly, the panel considered what life would be like for Britons following a vote to leave. Stringer and Morrissey thought that Britain would be free to renegotiate its ties with the continent, and could also increase the amount it traded with the rest of the world.
Norway came up frequently as an example of a country on the fringes of Europe. Some of the panellists thought Britain could model itself on the nordic nation, while Eshun disagreed: "I don’t see Norway leading the world. I don’t see that as a centre of culture.”



The Big EU Debate

University of Sussex students organised a four-way campus debate featuring two MPs, a member of the House of Lords and a business figure on the subject of the UK’s upcoming EU referendum.

Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks QC argued against two prominent Eurosceptics - Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and the chair of Vote Leave, Labour Party donor and JML chairman John Mills.


Environment Minister Rory Stewart visits the University of Sussex

Students and staff had the opportunity to discuss the Government’s environmental policy with Rory Stewart MP.

Rory Stewart is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The Minister highlighted his view on the importance of European integration on environmental policy and encouraged people to vote in the upcoming EU Referendum. He spent time sharing his thoughts and then taking questions from an engaged group of students and staff.

Environment Minister Rory Stewart visits the University of Sussex

Students and staff had the opportunity to discuss the government's environmental policy with Rory Stewart MP last week (19 May).
Dr Stewart, who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), started off by condemning the "grim series of words" usually associated with the environment.
He suggested that "biodiversity, carbon capture, environmental corridors" and other abstractions were used to create a pessimistic picture of the UK's environmental progress.
He said that in reality, the country had come a long way over the past 25 years in areas such as air quality, water quality and recycling rates.
The Minister went on to state that there was "no point thinking about the British environment as an island" - in terms of its geography and ecology, Britain was an extension of mainland Europe. Many British bird species were migratory and fish stocks were shared with other nations.
Problems such as air pollution needed to be tackled at a European level, Dr Stewart stressed, as much of the Britain's pollution blew across the sea from other countries. He suggested there was "absolutely no sense" in trying to address environmental issues on a British rather than a European level.
The Minister added that Britain's participation in the European Union "helps to raise standards in other countries."
He explained that countries in Eastern Europe "did astonishing damage to their landscapes and their rivers through different kinds of forced industrialization process," yet the promise of accession to the EU has driven these nations to make "huge improvements"to their environmental standards.
Working with the rest of Europe would allow the UK to have "global impact," the Minister continued, as the EU represented a pool of 500 million customers.
A common European agreement to ban the importation of raw ivory would have a significant effect on poaching, he said, while an EU agreement on air quality or engine standards could drive change in the motor industry; companies were less likely to change their practices if Britain acted alone.
The Minister emphasized the need for local, detailed discussions about the environment in areas such as the South Downs. Communities should "move away from generic abstractions" and "towards the actuality of the landscape" - even if this involved complicated questions about land use, tree cover and soil types.
It was crucial for the next generation of policymakers to engage in these conversations, he stated, "without losing faith in something that has been deeply precious and deeply important in the last 40 years in getting where we are now on the environment, which is Europe." 
He then invited questions from the audience.
An audience member commented that the Minister had pointed to improvements in air quality and other areas over the past 25 years, without acknowledging that many environmental problems had been outsourced to other countries.
Dr Stewart admitted that there was "no easy answer" to this. He noted that some farming practices could be damaging to the environment, and suggested that rather than outsourcing these practices, the UK population should think about consuming less of certain foods.
Another participant mentioned that growth in the UK's shale gas industry would contribute to climate change as well as harming water quality. The student stated that Dr Stewart had voted against a ban on further exploitation of UK shale gas, and asked how he could justify this.
The Minister replied that the legislation in question was poorly drafted, and that the UK already had an Environment Agency that was well-equipped to regulate the shale gas industry.
He added that he was a "nature man" and didn't want to get into an "endless technical argument" about the costs and benefits of different forms of energy generation.
A student challenged the Minister on his unwillingness to enter into technical discussions about energy generation. She claimed that if policy-makers across government were not better informed about energy economics, policy decisions risked being made "in blind faith."
Dr Stewart answered that he was well-informed about the costs and benefits of different forms of energy; however, he did not wish to comment on this as it was the responsibility of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
An audience member noted that if the UK voted to leave the EU, one scenario might see the country becoming a member of the EEA, along with other countries such as Norway. She asked how this might impact on UK environment policy.
The Minister responded that Norway had to accept EU environmental regulations without being involved in drafting them, whereas the UK's membership of the EU meant that it could influence environmental policy.
A participant noted that the village of Pickering had implemented a sustainable drainage system and had since avoided the winter floods of 2015-2016: why weren't more of these schemes being pursued by the government?
The Minister responded that an academic analysis had shown that Pickering hadn't experienced much rain during the winter flooding period.
He then turned to the whiteboard to illustrate how flooding could only be prevented if organisations worked together - something that governments had struggled to achieve over the past 40 years.

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