June 10, 2016
Opposing sides of EU referendum debate clash at Highbridge meeting

Around three quarters of the audience at an EU referendum election hustings event in Highbridge last night (Thursday, June 9th) said they will be voting to leave the EU.

MP James Heappey, who has not yet announced his voting intentions, led the debate in Highbridge Community Hall.

An audience of over 100 people heard arguments to stay in Europe from Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, and from Tim Hegarty, a Vote Leave campaigner and businessman.

Mr Bradshaw said the UK's trade has grown significantly since it joined the EU while Mr Hegarty argued that the EU is "evil and corrupt."

One of the key local issues debated was Burnham's 'poor' sea water, as defined by the EU's new regulations, which Mr Heappey noted have caused "considerable angst" in the town.

Audience member Gaynor Brown said Burnham-On-Sea had lost its Stert Island Swim due to the EU regulations even though the water quality has not actually worsened.

Mr Bradshaw said he is "very sorry to hear that" but added that he's pleased that the EU has forced the UK to raise environmental standards and introduce improved sewage systems.

Tim Hegarty said: "We are British, we need to stand up for ourselves. We don't need the EU to tell us how to run our beaches."

Another audience member, Janet Keen, said she is voting leave due to concerns about the "frightening levels of endemic corruption" in the EU. Mr Bradshaw said that corruption levels are "very, very low" and that countries can't join unless they tackle corruption, but Mr Hegarty said "corruption is everywhere."

On immigration, Mr Bradshaw said that overseas workers provide the UK with many "essential workers, particularly in the care industry." Mr Hegarty said those in favour are merely keen to get cheap workers - "it's all about the money," he said. Mr Bradshaw argued that "leaving the EU will not solve immigration."

Tim Hegarty said that people who say the country will miss out on trade if we leave the EU "cannot be trusted" and he claimed it would be so easy for the UK to negotiate trade deals. However, Mr Bradshaw claimed that Barack Obama was right and we would be "at the back of the queue" in terms of trade.

Resident Tony Lynham aired concerns about the levels of money being spent on the EU - a point agreed by Mr Hegarty who said that UK tax payers had given over £2m to the EU since the start of the meeting.

Immigration, the economy, concerns about right wing extremism, sovereignty, agriculture subsidies, open borders and tourism were also among the topics covered.

Mr Heappey told afterwards he will be announcing after next week's debates how he will be voting. "I made up my mind a while ago and I'm not sitting on the fence, but I feel it's my responsibility to hear the debates and comments from constituents before saying how I will vote," he said.

Local people are being urged to get out and vote in June 23rd. "This is a very important vote that will shape the country for years - it's so impotant that people use their vote," said the MP.

A show of hands at the meeting revealed the vast majority of those present were in favour of leaving the EU.

Mr Heappey is also holding two further hustings events at Wells Cathedral at 7.30pm today (Friday 10th June), and Kings of Wessex School in Cheddar at 7.30pm on Thursday 16th June.

We spoke to some of those who attended the Highbridge hustings about how they will be voting in the EU Referendum...

Zoe Ryder - Leave
"I don't want to be in a United States of Europe - we want our own identity and to be made to make our own decisions."

Charlie Evans - Stay
"I think leaving the EU would be a risky leap into the dark. I don't think immigration is as big an issue as it's made out to be."

Daniel Solomon - Undecided
"There is such a difference between the facts and the emotions of those who shout the loudest. I am undecided at the moment."

Annie Easton - Leave
"I have been following a lot of the arguments and just don't believe in the stay debate. I think that Turkey will quickly become an EU member."



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