Debating

The Oxford Union was founded as a debating society, and indeed debating remains at the core of what we do.

Every Thursday evening during term the Union hosts one of its main debates. Speeches from many of these attract significant media attention worldwide.

However, nothing compares to witnessing our famous debates live; the atmosphere is always stirring as world experts argue passionately about their conflicting beliefs.

In recent debates, Nick Clegg clashed with Nigel Farage on the subject of EU membership, Mehdi Hassan described why Islam is a religion of peace, and Angela Davis argued that extremism in defence of liberty is no vice to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Malcolm X’ s visit to the Union.

During every debate, our members are given a chance to have their say. Not only can students speak alongside guest speakers, but members of the audience can challenge points that have been made when the debate is opened up to the floor; the outcome of many a debate has been swung by an impassioned student speech. Results are determined by how many students walk out the door marked ‘ Ayes’ , and the door marked ‘ Noes’ , in much the same way as done at the House of Commons.

Each of our main debates is preceded by an ’emergency debate’ – a smaller scale, student only affair about a particularly current topic. This provides an opportunity for our members to hone their debating skills, and speak their mind in a more relaxed environment than the forthcoming main debate.

Although the dress code for the main debate guest speakers and formal dinner guests is black tie/evening dress, members attending the debate are not required to wear evening dress, and should dress in their normal day wear

Past debates at the Oxford Union have left their mark on the world, their outcomes resonating far beyond the University. In 1933, the Union passed its famous motion, “This House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country”, causing a maelstrom of political and public ire; indeed, Winston Churchill called it, “that abject, squalid, shameless avowal”.

In 1975, the passage of the motion, “This House would say yes to Europe” with 493 ayes to 92 noes reportedly had a considerable influence on the national referendum concerning the UK’ s membership of the EEC, given that the debate was held and televised only a few days before the referendum.

To this day, the Union remains the principal forum for national and international debate, and here are some excerpts for you to peruse:

Brexit: We Should NOT Support the Deal

Britain Should be Ashamed of Churchill

We Cannot Separate The Art From The Artist

You can watch more debates on our YouTube Channel.