Young people demand more heart in the EU debate

27 May 16

Secretary of State and Young Panel

Last night young people across the UK engaged in a passionate debate about the EU Referendum at a unique youth engagement engagement event hosted by Restless Development.

With the deadline to register to vote just one week away and an estimated 4 million young people still missing from the electoral register, “Brexit Live: Youth Decide” was designed to expose young people to all sides of the debate and motivate them to have their say in the forthcoming poll.

The evening began with a unique immersive theatre exercise. Each young person received different character briefs, with a role playing activity where they had conversations with each other and learned about the key issues from all perspectives in the debate. By putting themselves in the shoes of others, many were challenged into questioning their pre-existing beliefs and came out of the exercise ready to learn more.

Young People in interactive session

At the break point in the evening, we welcomed Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening to address the young audience. She underlined the generational significance of the referendum and urged all young people to use what could well be the most important vote they will have in their lifetime.

The speech set up the second half of the evening: the youth-led panel discussion. Chaired by Bite The Ballot Community Engagement Officer, Josh Pugh, the diverse panel explored all of the issues that matter most to young people.

Caroline MacFarland, from the CoVi think tank that is looking into the generational divide within the EU Referendum debate, criticised the low level of public debate so far but reflected that the cross-party nature of it should help to inspire more young people to get involved.

Shamir Sanni, a young Pakistani-born activist for a youth-led campaign to leave the EU called BeLeave, spoke up for what he described as the left-wing case for leaving the bloc. He said the EU protected itself at the expense of other nations in the world and we should be more global in our approach to multiculturalism.

Shakira Martin, Vice President of the National Union of Students (NUS) who are campaigning to Remain, appealed to her own personal journey within politics when motivating others to vote. She passionately remarked that the EU’s support for education enabled her to transition from apathetic TV watcher to the vocal campaigner she was today.

Clearly enthused by what the panellists shared, the young audience followed up with many probing questions and many confessed that the evening had them swaying from side to side on a range of key issues. Unlike what they had heard before, young people felt the panellists were speaking from the heart and wanted to see more of that in the wider debate.

As the evening drew to a close, Chair Josh wrapped up by reminding the audience of their duty to now go and engage other young people with the debate and to motivate them to use their vote too. Watch his video about it below: