Part One of the King’s Brexit Talks: Banter with Benn

At a time of complacency in Brexit negotiations, King’s students piled into the auditorium on October 11 to hear what Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds central since 1999, had to say. His first statement was clear as day: “Leaving the EU is going be bad for Britain.”

Benn continued his introduction by shifting towards the migration crisis. About the crisis, he stated, “We, as humans, have been searching for a better life since the beginning of time. people deserve to live and to prosper. We need to deal with these issues through cooperation with the international. The definition of the human condition is interdependence. If the government doesn’t come up with the right immigration policy, there’s going to be a problem.”

Photo credits: Isabel Veninga

Throughout the discussion, Benn brought up his position on Brexit multiple times, with statements such as, “I very much regret the result (of the referendum) but as a democrat, I accepted it” and “I don’t accept the argument that seeking a close relationship with the European Union is a betrayal towards the referendum.” In his statements, he was clearly against a no deal, yet he always stayed moderate in his comments, with the occasional exception, such as “I think the government is doing quite a good job of making a mess of Brexit.”

When asked how Benn thinks the future of the EU will fare without the UK, Benn replied:

“In a way, it [Brexit] brought member states closer together. However, if you look around the EU member states—France, The Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy… […] it would be interesting to see how the populists fare in the next elections.” He stays relatively objective in his observations, but a main viewpoint he kept repeating was his belief that “the future for Europe needs to be a flexible, concentric circle.”

On the discussion of Labour being able to handle Brexit “better” than Theresa May, Benn stated that Labour would “absolutely be better, since Corbyn wants to stay in the customs union.”

Photo credits: Isabel Veninga

Key features of the debates such as the customs union, the single market and particularly the Northern Ireland Border were frequently mentioned throughout the discussion. About NI, Benn said: “an open border is of the utmost importance, and essential to the peace process.”

As the discussion with the President of the Political Economy society drew to a close, the Q&A from the audience opened up with various individuals asking questions on different topics. When asked by Roar how Brexit may affect international students, Benn highlighted that “Foreign students are a fantastic resource, because we get to collaborate with people from all over the world. We take pride being the largest international collaboration.”

On why the KCL Political Economy society decided to ask Hilary Benn to come give a talk at King’s, Serena Lit, the president of the PES stated, “Hilary Benn has been a key player in Labour’s internal politics for the last forty years. We invited him to come in and explain to our members what caused his change from being a vehement Eurosceptic in 1975 to a certified Europhile by 2016. We hope the discussion not only informed people about the real issues both Britain and Europe will face in the aftermath of Brexit, but also shed some light on the frailty of Labour’s soft Brexit plan.”


Article written by Isabel Veninga and Rachel Brooker