Should we stay or should we go? Hitchin Town Hall opens doors to first public debate as EU referendum is discussed

Hitchin Town Hall hosted its first public event tonight.

Hitchin Town Hall hosted its first public event tonight. - Credit: Archant

Hitchin Town Hall finally threw its doors open to the public as it played host to a debate on the EU referendum tonight.

'Mr Hitchin' Keith Hoskins chaired the EU referendum debate at the town hall tonight.

'Mr Hitchin' Keith Hoskins chaired the EU referendum debate at the town hall tonight. - Credit: Archant

After years of legal wrangling and being plagued by budget overspends, the first public event at the site saw all 200 seats taken – with standing room only at the back of the revamped main hall.

The town hall – which was used for North Herts District Council’s invitation-only civic reception last month – held a Question Time-style debate on the EU referendum in an event organised by Hitchin Initiative.

Town centre manager Keith Hoskins was the David Dimbleby-style chair for the evening which featured the Conservative MP for Hitchin, Peter Lilley, Labour’s Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins, former Liberal Democrat PPC Sandy Wallington and Labour activist Alex Mayer.

There was lively debate on whether the UK should exit the EU or stay in.

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Topics discussed included immigration, trade, jobs and the economy, the environment and views on US President Barack Obama joining the EU debate,

The loudest applause of the night came when Mr Lilley said: “Millions have lost their jobs across the continent – but no EU commissioner has lost their job.

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“No one can really hold them to account,” before he added: “If we care about our children we should not be aligning ourselves to the slowest growing trade area in the world, the EU.”

Labour activist Alex Mayer countered by saying: “I’m pleased to put Labour’s case tonight.

“I’m an internationalist so think we’re safer, stronger and better off in the EU.”

On immigration the Lib Dems Sandy Wallilngton said: “We have to be very vigilant not to demonise immigrants.”

However the reaction to the political debate on social media was mixed.

Norm Driskell tweeted: “It’s difficult to find the truth, both sides stating ‘facts’ immediately branded utterly incorrect by the other.

“The average person will vote on gut feel and will be left confused, excluded, and suspicious of the political debate.”

But Bernie Hughes added: “Good debate – some interesting points were made. And the town hall looks amazing too.”

In a straw poll conducted by Mr Hoskins at the end of the evening he asked if anyone in the audience had changed their mind on the basis of tonight’s debate – with four people raising their hands out of more than 200.

Mr Lilley, speaking to the Comet afterwards said: “It’s good that some people changed their minds on the basis of debate tonight.”

On being asked his views of the new town hall he added: “It’s beautiful. I don’t know what took so long to put a new coat of paint on it.”

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