EU referendum: Student launches powerful defence of immigration in heated BBC young voters' debate

Asma, from Aberdeen, and Emily, from Poole, faced off as young voters questioned a panel of MPs

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 27 May 2016 09:01
Audience member explains why EU is so important for housing while ruining anti-immigration argument during live BBC debate

A student has launched a powerful defence of immigration as young voters faced off in a heated EU debate.

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond, Labour MP Alan Johnson, Ukip MEP Diane James and Conservative MP Liam Fox were on the BBC panel but the key exchange of the night was between two audience members.

Emily, a Leave voter from Poole, said her disabled mother live in a council house and need to move into a bungalow.

“There are none in our area,” she said. “Immigrants are being bumped up the list.”

But anther audience member, Asma from Aberdeen, cited European Union directives for improving the quality of rented homes and local authority housing.

Panellists on the BBC EU referendum debate

“Emily and her mum need to realise that the UK Government are the people that can build council houses, the European Union is not some kind of scapegoat that you can keep blaming for your problems,” she said.

After Emily raised concerns about immigration, saying “the more we let in, the less houses we’re going to have to house them”, Asma accused her of having a “selective memory” and pointed out how many Brits travel to Europe.

“Just remember how many immigrants like my family, like a lot of the people in this audience’s family have built this nation,” she said, to cheers from the audience.

The heated exchange sparked a flurry of activity on Twitter, with 900 tweets a minute sent after Emily’s comments.

“This #BBCDebate is the best soap opera I've ever seen,” Chris Kerr wrote. “Tune in tomorrow to see if Emily's mum gets her bungalow.”

The debate saw 150 voters aged between 18 and 29, question the politicians in Glasgow.

Mr Salmond and Mr Johnson made the case for staying in the EU, while Ms James and Dr Fox argued for a Brexit.

The former First Minister told the audience a second Scottish independence referendum “would have to be within the two-year period of the UK negotiating to withdraw” from the EU, should it vote to leave on 23 June.

Despite arguing that the Brexit would negatively impact on jobs and economic growth, Mr Salmond criticised “scaremongering” by the Treasury.

When host Victoria Derbyshire asked if the audience believed George Osborne’s “apocalyptic” forecast the majority said no.

Some of the young voters also criticised “tit-for-tat” attacks during the campaign, describing it as “petty name-calling” that was making it more difficult for the public to decide how to vote.

Ukip's Ms James did not believe the focus by some Leave campaigners on immigration had been “appalling”.

She said the issue was “one very clear example that the UK government…actually don't have control over a key aspect of our economy".

Remain campaigners also seized on her admission that "we just don't know" whether Britons would require visas to travel in Europe.

Asked whether travel across Europe would be affected by a Brexit, Dr Fox said: ”Europe and exchange and trade and travel existed before there was a European Union and will continue after.

“Why do we have these arrangements? Because it is genuinely in the interests of both parties to do so.”

But Mr Johnson said a visa system would “surely” be needed to differentiate between tourists and migrant workers.

Other issues raised during the debate included travel, the NHS, house prices and jobs.

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