Durham students voted by a narrow margin to support the motion ‘This House Regrets Brexit’ after an impassioned debate between high-profile public figures at the Durham Union Society.
The motion, which was sup- ported by Conservative MP Anna Soubry, Labour peer Lord Adonis and Cambridge Professor Brendan Simms, passed by a margin of 105 votes to 82 on the night, after several hours of debate.
Although a greater margin than the Brexit referendum itself, which split the country 52% to 48%, the support for Brexit was much higher among Durham stu- dents than is the case for most young people aged between 18 and 24. According to a YouGov poll, 75% of voters in that demo- graphic voted remain, alongside a majority of those aged 25-49.
“Despite all these experts, some- how 17.4 million people in Britain said ‘nah, we’ll take our chances thanks, we’re not going to listen to you,’”
Speaking for the opposition were former Secretary of State Peter Lilley, former UKIP MEP Ste- ven Woolfe and right-wing journalist James Delingpole.
Delingpole opened his speech by referring to a controversial column he produced for The Spectator in which he claimed: “For a real Oxbridge education you have to go to Durham.”
The executive editor of Breitbart London expressed delight in returning to Durham, which he described as a “decent, proper University” compared to the “horrible Oxbridge”.
Likening Britain’s decision to leave the European Union to “taking down the Death Star” and being “given the keys to our prison doors,” Delingpole spoke passionately about the democratic verdict of June 23rd 2016.
“It was the first vote I’d ever cast in my life that I felt really, really counted for something,” he said.
Despite his private school background and Oxbridge education, he declared himself “a man of the people… the people of the North, the people of the countryside,” and expressed his disdain for those opposed to Brexit, whom he labelled “corporate lawyers, bankers, quangocrats, [and] people who work for Greenpeace”.
He continued in the same vein: “Despite all these experts, somehow 17.4 million people in Britain said ‘nah, we’ll take our chances thanks, we’re not going to listen to you,’” which he explained was because “they simply grasped something people who read gender studies at the University of the West of England didn’t – good old-fashioned common sense.”
In characteristic style, the right-wing commentator joked: “Call me an honorary peasant … on Brexit I feel like I am [one of the mob].” Similar sentiments were echoed by former Conservative Secretary of State for Social Security, Peter Lilley, who said: “We should be delighted that we have taken back control,” and spoke of the oppor- tunity to “have a genuinely non- racist immigration policy, about numbers not nationality.”
The final speaker for the opposition was a former UKIP politician Steven Woolfe, who was once touted as the successor to Nigel Farage. He said to the audience: “You are living in a period of history that not only will you remember, but also your children will remember.”
Anna Soubry, who was labelled one of the ‘Brexit mutineers’ by the front page of The Daily Telegraph last year, countered these speeches in her own address.
Soubry said: “Call me old-fashioned, but I think one of the ways you win a debate is to make a good argument.”
“I hang my head in shame,” said the Tory politician of the division created by the Brexit vote
Upon Steven Woolfe’s attempt to interrupt her, she quipped, “You’re both a buggar and a bastard,” which she claimed were words borrowed from Delingpole and not her own. Directly addressing the latter, she said “the most you’ve ever done in your life is to write for The Daily Telegraph.”
“I hang my head in shame,” said the Tory politician of the division created by the Brexit vote. Citing a case wherein one of her constituents was the victim of a racially motivated incident in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, she lamented that many people “feel they are no longer wanted in our country”.
Soubry went on to say Brexit was “a huge distraction from the big issues that face our country,” which was supported by former education minister and serving Labour peer, Lord Adonis.
Although Adonis recognised that “there is a massive challenge faced by a left behind Britain,” he said Brexit “is seeking to scapegoat Europe and foreigners for all of the problems at home.”
He said directly to the audience composed largely of young people: “You’re going to have to live with the consequences.”
After the victory for the proposition side, Lord Adonis wrote triumphantly of the result: “Students know their future is being trashed by ideology”.
Photograph: Durham Union Society