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‘Sink the boats’ – KCL Tories’ Debate Motion Slammed by National Parties

Initial KCLCA Post
Initial KCLCA Post

A King’s College London Conservative Association (KCLCA) ‘Port and Policy’ motion to “sink the boats” has been slammed by Labour and Conservative spokespeople as “disgraceful” and “unacceptable” respectively, The Sun reported.

Conservative HQ (CCHQ) demanded that the King’s College London and University College London Conservative Associations cancel the event. CCHQ called the motion “obviously not acceptable”, adding that they “will be asking the student groups to remove this and cancel the event”. 

An Instagram post announcing the Port and Policy debate presented two motions – ‘This house would invade Yemen’ and ‘This house would sink the boats’ – with a background depicting people crowded onto a dinghy. The post was later amended, the motion instead proposing to ‘send the boats back’, and the backing photo changed to a scene depicting artillery fire.  

The event announcement has since been removed from Instagram.

‘Sink the boats’ refers to small boats which transport migrants across the English Channel without government permission. These boats are often overcrowded and entirely unarmed. According to the government, they are usually “rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs), dinghies and kayaks”. Almost 30,000 people crossed the Channel this way in 2023.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth MP, Shadow Paymaster General, criticised the KCLCA for putting forward such a motion.

“While Tory students quaff port and laugh at weak Rishi Sunak’s failure to stop the boats, the British people are looking on in despair… Suggestions of sinking boats, after the tragic loss of life in the Channel last weekend, is a disgraceful new low… Rishi Sunak and his colleagues should come clean immediately over whether this event is sanctioned by the Conservative Party.”  

Jonathan Ashworth MP

The Sun reported that “Tory sources” have said anyone involved in the event could face disciplinary action.

The KCLCA told Roar that:

“The London Universities Conservatives (LUC) is committed to comprehensive, open and robust debate. In this regard, it is a leader within the wider London university environment for freedom of speech and ideas-led discourse. LUC is also independent from the Conservative Party. Given the contemporary pre-eminence of small boat crossings, a discussion relating to possible motions on the issue was held. At no point was anybody seriously suggesting sinking the boats as a credible policy option, and we had no intention of debating the motion as was first promoted. Our initial investigation into how this has happened suggests that there was a miscommunication of the proposed motion leading to a member of a society committee posting the incorrect motion. This mistake was noted shortly after posting, and the motion duly revised. It is important to note this was actioned before any media interest had arisen. A full investigation is now being conducted to determine the exact course of events, and it would be inappropriate to comment further until this investigation has been concluded.”

KCLCA, Tuesday 23 January 2024

Roar understands that the original post was uploaded at around 12pm and not edited until after 4pm.

On Tuesday, 23 January, KCL Labour released a public statement addressing the debate motion. Referencing the statement given by the KCLCA to Roar, they criticised the group for “ducking blame and dismissing it as a miscommunication”.

“Hosting a debate on whether the government should ‘sink the boats’ demonstrates an astonishing lack of compassion for those suffering in the humanitarian crisis taking place by and on our shores.”

Excerpt from the official statement from KCL Labour

This is not the first time that a Port and Policy event has been the subject of controversy. The KCLCA last year faced backlash over a motion to ‘restore the British Empire’, resulting in a temporary breakdown of relations between KCL political societies.

A few months prior, the KCLCA had also hosted a controversial debate on the prospect of a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine. The event saw audience members wearing Keffiyeh scarves, ‘Make America Great Again’ hats and exclaiming “one to five kill ratio” during heated points of the debate.

Most recently, KCLCA President Isaac Farnbank was criticised for responding “you’re a teenage girl, what do you know about foreign affairs?” to a heckler during a cross-party debate. Farnbank did apologise, both in the immediate aftermath and in a later statement to Roar, for the outburst.

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