EU referendum countdown: ‘Debate has become about ‘us and them’ and it shouldn’t be like that’ say Leeds ladies

An  EU referendum  round-the-table chat at Burley Park Children's Centre, St Matthias' St, Burley.  From left Fiona Serrao, Tehmeena Tahir, Sonya Horner, Maya Srengelia, Patrycya Swerczyosko, Sara Levy, Sadia Hussain, Luwam Elias.
An EU referendum round-the-table chat at Burley Park Children's Centre, St Matthias' St, Burley. From left Fiona Serrao, Tehmeena Tahir, Sonya Horner, Maya Srengelia, Patrycya Swerczyosko, Sara Levy, Sadia Hussain, Luwam Elias.
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With nine days to go until the country goes to the polls for what has been described as “the most important vote in a generation”, the Yorkshire’s Evening Post’ political reporter Aisha Iqbal has been out and about in communities across Leeds, finding out what ordinary voters are thinking and feeling. Today, she speaks to a group of ladies in Burley Park who are part of a childminding course.

Depending on which poll you look at on any given day, predictions about the way the referendum vote will go in just nine days’ time can vary.

For many Loiners - like families across the country - just navigating through the various conflicting arguments from the ‘Brexit’ and ‘Bremain’ camps has become a challenge in itself.

But one thing is certain, ordinary families are interested in talking - genuinely talking - about the EU Referendum.

And they would like less rhetoric - and more of that real talk.

The overall view of these ladies at Burley Park Children’s Centre is that the focus on immigration is right - but disproportionate.

Of the group of eight that the YEP spoke to, five were for ‘remain’, with three undecided.

Young mum Sadia Hussain said: “I think we should stay in the EU rather than going it alone.

“However I do understand the concerns about immigration.

“I was watching David Cameron on TV and I liked what he said about immigration control. At the moment, the schools are overly crowded. My kids go to school, and I can see teachers are really struggling to get children up to speed.”

Sonya Horner volunteers at a nursery. She says the issue is not immigration levels, but resources to deal with them.

“Personally I know the impact [EU immigration] is having in schools and nurseries. There are not enough teachers qualified in different languages. We are taking a lot more children and it is a struggle finding people to speak to them.”

She says the nationalities at her nursery are “a real mix”, with Polish, Georgian, Turkish, a lot of Eastern European countries.”

However despite her own concerns, Sonya believes that “everything has got swamped by one subject”.

“I think the debate was supposed to be about protecting our borders. But that seems to have gone. It’s not so much about protecting us anymore, it’s more about division. It’s become about ‘us and them’, and it shouldn’t be like that.”

She adds: “There are many other things we need to address, like housing and jobs.”

Meanwhile training tutor Fiona Serrao is a likely remainer but admits she has had a “wobble”.

Immigration is, again, a factor, but she also worries that vital grassroots projects that rely on European Union funding may suffer if we leave.

“There is lots of research funding and we are a huge part of that market,” she explains.

“Lots of funding is sourced through Europe and that funding will disappear - or could potentially disappear - if we leave.”

On the wider debate, she says it is important for ordinary voters to “be vigilant, don’t let ourselves be hijacked by certain sides, and have open hearts and ears”.

Fiona says she wants foreigners and new citizens “to have a good experience of being in England, to feel safe, to feel valued, to be able to get a job, and to have good neighbours who are happy to have them here”.

And she warns politicians and decisionmakers that not dealing with the obvious widespread concerns about the immigration issue properly - or doing so irresponsibly - may be damaging to our country in the long run.

“I don’t want people to come to this country and be scared. What we need to do is value the people who are here. But there has to be a limit. We are only a little island.”

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