On Friday Feb 11th, Bill Newton Dunn MEP (Lib-Dem) and I went to Leicester Grammar School in Great Glen, at the invitation of Mr. Trevor Allen, Head of the Sixth Form, to debate the motion “This House believes that the benefits of EU membership outweigh the costs”. Needless to say, Bill was for Yes, and I was for No.
The format was interesting. A few words of introduction from Mr. Allen, Bill and myself. Then the announcement of the motion, with ten minutes each for the two MEPs to speak for and against. Then questions from the pupils (I’m guessing there were well over a hundred) followed by a vote.
I awaited the outcome with some trepidation — it’s always a bad feeling to lose a debate. And it seemed that quite a lot of hands went up for “Yes”. But far more went up for “No” — so many that Mr. Allen gave up counting. My guess is that about a third voted Yes, about half No, with the remainder abstaining.
We had some discussion about the way that English was becoming the main language of Europe, the second language preferred by most non-native-English speakers. And Bill laid great emphasis on the opportunities provided by the EU to work in other member-states. An extremely bright young lady asked a very pertinent question: “If most Europeans are learning English and apply for UK jobs, but we’d need to learn a lot of languages to work in continental countries, doesn’t that give other Europeans a huge advantage in our job market?”. Bill gave a rather defensive answer. But when my turn came, I simply said “That was an excellent question. And the answer is YES”.
I was interested that several questions focussed on the recent “Votes for Prisoners” issue, and the pupils’ view seemed strongly against. I too feel strongly about votes for prisoners — both that they shouldn’t have ‘em, and even more strongly that the decision should be made by our own democratically elected parliament, not by unelected and unaccountable judges. Indeed I have no real problem with the European Convention on Human Rights, which is mostly motherhood and apple pie. My problem is with the interventionist judges, who are over-interpreting the Convention in the most egregious way, making perverse decisions that fly in the face of common sense and natural justice, and effectively creating new law as they go along. We elect politicians, not judges, to make the law.
Yet compared to the damage that EU membership is doing to our prosperity, our democracy and our liberty, votes-for-cons is a relatively minor issue. I have often noted how relatively minor issues (“Threat to our fish’n’chips”; “Banning Staffordshire Bull Terriers”; “Union Jack hung upside-down”) have far more traction with the press than the fundamental issues of liberty and governance.
But if the votes-for-cons issue galvanises the public, and demonstrates the extent to which we’ve lost the power to govern ourselves, so much the better. Meantime, well done Leicester Grammar School.