Oakgrove Integrated College students and Headliners young reporters, Hannah Partridge, Lumen Christi and Caleb Griffin, were lucky enough to secure seats in the audience as former Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and John Major, addressed an audience of young people at the University of Ulster, Derry last week.

The main speakers outlined their opposition to Brexit. 

The talk was delivered by Mr’s Major and Blair, while the audience was almost entirely young students who also participated in a question and answer session.

Hannah writes of the event: Both former PMs had said it would be “highly irresponsible” to leave the EU as, added Mr. Blair: “The UK has many problems to fix and leaving the EU would just add more.”

For one I agree with this statement and would prefer the UK and Ireland to remain within the wider European framework.

Mr. Major also stated that an exit would result in the reintroduction of border checkpoints between The North and Republic of Ireland. These they argued would lead, inevitably to deteriorating levels of trust and co-operation between the Irish and British.

It was suggested too, that travellers between the countries may require a visa and/or passport.

Mr. Major suggested Brexit would possibly undermine the Good Friday Agreement. In particular, he felt, it would undermine those clauses which acknowledge the right of those born in Northern Ireland to hold an Irish Passport.

A wide range of issues and factors were discussed, however there was one question I would have liked to had debated more clearly. It was not answered particularly well, ‘what will happen to existing students education choices and career paths if we left?’

Currently students can hop on a plane and study abroad in another part of the EU, accessing many more diploma and degree courses, as part of several existing European cultural and educational exchange programmes.

Personally I haven’t heard anything on this topic and as a student I’d like to know, if I’d be able to have those same options when I leave my current school in the event of a Brexit.

I personally found the talk very informing and both spoke strongly against the dangers of leaving.

I found the talk quite interesting and was even asked to give my views on BBC news.

I told them I prefer to remain. That as a young teen any departure from the EU will affect the younger age categories more disproportionately.

That is why I am hoping for a remain result, said Hannah.

Caleb, pictured above with Tony Blair, summarised what was a serious debate in a more jovial manner:

April 9th 1992. May 2nd 1997; Perhaps these dates could be classed as the most important days in the lives of the two individuals I am about to write about, the dates Sir John Major and Tony Blair were appointed the position of Prime Minister, their parties having secured a majority in a general election.

The European project was already bedded in, the entity evolving steadily since the end of World War II.

Both leaders have been controversial in and out of office, yet their effect on life, at least opinions on their effect, positively and negatively, inside and outside the United Kingdom, fills book shelves.

June 9th 2016: No, it will not be a recurring pattern, beginning paragraphs with dates. Sorry about that but that was when I attended a talk with Sir John Major, henceforth referred to as J-Bear and Mr Blair, who will now be known as Big-T.

J-Bear and Big-T spoke passionately of their opposition to the Brexit campaign. The former Labour and Conservative leaders attempting to convince an audience of young Derry people on the negative impact leaving the European Union could have on the UK.

Actually now that I think about it, J-Bear and Big-T had a lot to say.

Allow me to summarise their points, because, well I’m a slow typist.

In essence their message was, ‘Leaving the European Union is bad and will likely be the cause of the United Kingdom no longer being united.’

The aspect of peace in Northern Ireland was discussed at length.

I prefer to remain.

The main thrust of their argument being how important the European Union was in the peace process. While I would disagree with that I understand the point both former Prime Ministers made on the importance of both maintaining peace in Northern Ireland and keeping the United Kingdom united.

My reaction to what both men said was profound. This despite the fact they spoke from a vessel of ambiguity, in that vacuous style in which politicians often address the public. Their message and how it was interpreted locally, interested me greatly.

Often, when writing about issues which interest me I examine the argument from every possible point of view to understand opposing views.

However in this unique pending plebiscite situation, I do believe it is important to have an informed opinion of your own. To hold a reasoned and well thought out argument in order to form your own personal opinions.

If you come to an understanding your opinion may no longer reflect what you truly believe then you should be willing to change that opinion, to reflect the facts as you understand them.

With that being said, I agree with Big-T and J-Bear, that leaving the European Union is bad.  Not insomuch that I would agree with their own arguments but I do believe their overall message is the right one.

In my opinion, it would be wrong to leave the European Union as there are simply too many unknowns.

No country, no state, no government has ever left the European Union before, and no one knows what will happen if the UK exits.

Perhaps if there were clear consequences and results detailed, with much less ambiguity, uncertainty and blame, it would be easier to agree with Brexit campaigners. I am generally overly cautious therefore I believe it would be insane to make such a big jump into the unknown.

The UK, if it exits the EU, will simply be hoping for the best.

J-Bear spoke of how Brexit campaigners focus on the long term effects of leaving the EU, on how those would be amazing, yet, when questioned on the short term effects their words, he said, “cower away.”

I could not agree more.

I can understand some of the points Brexit campaigners make on the importance of leaving the European Union, yet, I believe it would be one hell of a bad move to make such a massive decision dealing with so many unknowns.

It’s hard not to agree with their reason.

The most exciting part of the talk for me was not quizzing former Prime Ministers on key political issues but meeting and speaking personally with them.

I was lucky to speak to both campaigners and have my picture taken with them. I quizzed Big – T on the importance of the Euro as a currency and how it was consistently being undervalued. To which he replied that the thriving economy of the UK should be protected but not to the cost of the European project. He also shared with me that he was personally opposed to the Euro becoming compulsory for member states.

I was very interested in discovering the human side of two men I had only ever encountered on the news. To meet two former Prime Ministers, listen to them speak and see how they command a room with such authority, despite holding the typically belittling title of ‘former Prime Minister’ was encouraging.

As a result I would be eager to develop my own public speaking skills.

Big-T and J-Bear spoke with a majesty and authority which is hard to replicate. Love or hate their policies, it’s hard to find fault with the way both mean carry a crowd with them.  

I don’t really have a general moral of the story but when it comes to this debate in particular I’ve come to the conclusion that opinions should alter with facts.

Opinions should be treated as though they were in a box, and not part of you, we should be willing to add new opinions to the box and remove others. Facts should alter reasoning.

I would argue against attaching yourself, steadfastly to your opinions. I think this has stifled, if not blighted, the debate from the beginning. Many commentators air their opinion first, then scramble for the ‘right facts’ to back up their own beliefs.

That, and the fact that Politicians are people too (apparently). 

This story was written by Hannah Partridge and Caleb Griffin.