Thursday night’s Union debate on the process of Brexit was a welcome deviation from the usual ‘virtues of in, or out’ theme. Instead, Jacob Rees Mogg tussled with Andrew Adonis, Karan Bilimoria and former education secretary Nicky Morgan on the the motion that ‘no deal’ is preferable to a ‘bad deal’. Despite this, it seems that few in the room noticed the nuance, with debate swiftly devolving into the usual partisan model of public Brexit discussion. What I think this served to illustrate is that debate has evolved minimally since June 23rd 2016.
Rees-Mogg’s politeness was visible even in his 5-minute speech: at any critical interjection from audience members, the floor was handed over in good spirits. On the other hand, the opposition appeared too interested in their case to yield time to students. Quite possibly, this is due to their perception that they were preaching to the choir. Lord Adonis’ speech opened with this attitude, asking the audience for a raise-of-hands on whether they would vote to remain in a second referendum. It was an unanimous yes, suggesting that debtaing the notion might be fruitless.
It also further alienated the audience from the actual topic at hand: the nature of the deal upon exiting the EU. This is perhaps an indication that the left has failed to learn how to ingratiate itself with anyone other than itself, a skill it desperately needed to re-learn after 2016.
While perfectly acceptable to suggest that those enthusiastic about Britain’s place outside the EU are, as one audience member put it, “romanticising a distant past before the EU”, it is important to be aware of the past before acusing people of romanticising it.
The youth’s tendency towards romanticising the ‘recent past before we left the EU’ often goes ignored as a result. Most of those at Thursday’s debate had never lived without the EU, making membership a comfortable status quo to uphold.
It was unsurprising to see the usual conflations from audience members and speakers alike: one being that the Erasmus scheme is soon to be in dire jeopardy, despite being established in 1987 when the European Union as we know it only came into existence under the Maastricht treaty. The usual allusions to the Daily Mail’s “enemies of the people” headline and the Home Office’s report of a 41% increase in hate crimes in 2016 were also made.
That said, it was certainly eye opening to see two Life Peers of the house of Lords celebrate the virtues of another unelected body: the European Commission.
One student protester argued that “Jacob Rees-Mogg’s intolerance, demonstrated both in his despicable voting record and his public statements, is unacceptable and should not be invited into our university.” I heard no “despicable” statements from Mr Rees-Mogg on Thursday evening.
Debate has evolved very little since June 2016, but opinion has. Thursday’s result was close, with 40% in favour of ReesMogg’s motion and 46% in opposition. Despite the over-representation of support for the EU, at such events, we might dare to assume that this is indicative of a wider trend towards embracing our exit.