Pupils from across Northern Ireland recently led a Mock Council of the European Union debate at Stormont.
Hailing from 27 schools, the sixth form pupils came together to tackle two of Europe’s most pressing issues —Post-Brexit: what next for the EU and the UK- and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Now in its 12th year, the event — which is organised by British Council Northern Ireland and the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland — was chaired by Jane Morrice from the European Economic and Social Committee, with Bangor Grammar representing the European Commission.
Things got heated early on in the TTIP debate, with many countries concerned about transparency, human rights and environmental regulations. However, the motion — that the EU should continue to negotiate with the US on TTIP — was passed — with many countries in agreement that the trade deal would not only be beneficial on economic terms, but would also create millions of jobs.
Though surprisingly; Campbell College, who represented the UK, got off quite lightly in the Brexit debate, with the rest of the EU more concerned with defence, the Gibraltar issue, and whether or not Northern Ireland or Scotland should remain as part of the EU.
Interestingly, the majority of the countries agreed that voting should be opened up to the younger generation, with the voting age lowered to 16.
The motion this time called for a ‘hard’ Brexit or no Brexit at all — with many countries concerned that a ‘softer’ approach would lead to a further exodus by countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic.
This time, the results were close, but the motion was passed for a ‘hard’ Brexit or no Brexit at all.
As part of the debate, one lucky school was chosen to act as the European Commission at an even larger Mock Council debate in London next month.
The prize, which was sponsored by British Council’s eTwinning programme, was won by Royal School Armagh, who represented Lithuania.
Pupil Sophie Roberts, who is on the school debating team, was delighted by the prize.
She said: “Today has been a really educational experience— it’s interesting to see how other countries view Brexit and it really makes you see politics differently and opens up your viewpoint.
“I’m really looking forward to representing the European Commission in London — I’m particularly interested in feminist politics and it’s great to be part of an all-girl team.”
Speaking after the event, Colette FitzGerald, Head of the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland, said: “The European Commission Office in Northern Ireland is delighted to support the Mock Council, which is an ideal opportunity for students in Northern Ireland to learn and debate about the big issues facing the European Union in today’s global economy.
For Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director, British Council Northern Ireland, the event is a great way for young people’s voices to be heard.
He said: “It is clear from today’s debate that students have strong opinions on what is going on in UK politics and beyond. This event put pupils at the head of the negotiation table and allowed them not only to see how politics works at a wider, European level, but it also gave them the chance to understand the possible ramifications Brexit has on the UK, as well as the rest of Europe.
“The final votes show a well-thought-out and balanced debate — congratulations to all those involved.”
The British Council is committed to providing international opportunities to schools in Northern Ireland. For more information on the Mock Council or any other programme available through the British Council visit http://nireland.britishcouncil.org follow on Twitter BCouncil_NI or on Facebook – www.facebook.com/britishcouncilnorthernireland.