Guild Vice President Jonathon Foster put forward a motion through the Guild’s “Change It” system yesterday which advocated that the Guild should support a People’s Vote on the final terms of the Brexit agreement. I interviewed Jonathon to find out the reasons behind his proposal.
What motivated you to create this petition?
Originally, I was not in favour of a People’s Vote and was sceptical of the arguments. However, I’ve changed my stance amid the unfolding chaos in Parliament. What people voted for in 2016 has not come to pass. We are in a worse position if we leave under the current terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. This campaign is not about campaigning to remain; it is about campaigning for the sake of students and young people.
How important for universities is it to campaign for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal?
Student Unions have a particularly strong voice. Approximately 70 student unions in the U.K. support a People’s Vote [The Sphinx are unable to verify this]. The impact of Brexit on students will be negative. There is uncertainty about the Erasmus+ scheme which would have a significant impact on students’ mobility. If students study abroad, they are nine per-cent more likely to achieve a first class or 2:1 degree. Also, there is the impact of EU research funding which will have consequences on the impact of teaching and resources. EU students currently have access to the £9,250 UK university tuition fees and there is a guarantee until 2021 that this will be maintained but after that, it is uncertain. EU students could be charged the same as non-EU international students which is £19,000 per annum, thus potentially reducing mobility. Compared to the wider general public, students will experience the effects of Brexit over a longer period of time. Some university students were not eligible to vote in 2016 and the Brexit that was not promised – such as the £350 million extra for the NHS – has not come to pass. There are lots of issues to consider.
Bruter and Harrison of the London School of Economics (LSE) said turnout in 2016 amongst 18-24-year-olds was 64%, so weren’t young people already engaged in the Brexit debate?
I’m not disputing that 18-24s were engaged in the 2016 debate. But, it is about building on from what we now know. A vast number of 18-24s are in favour of remaining in the EU. My campaign is about giving those who were not eligible in 2016 a voice. In the past two-and-a-half years, we have become more informed. I am not saying that people were not informed in 2016 but the rhetoric was falsifying and scaremongering. It is important to distinguish between the official People’s Vote and For our Future’s Sake – the latter which focuses on the impact of Brexit on young people in particular. My motion supporting a People’s Vote is not about cancelling Brexit. It is about choice especially as we are only 100 days away from March 29th – when the two-year Article 50 period expires.
How can the Guild incentivise students to get involved in student politics?
The policy would encourage a campaign on the final terms of the Brexit deal. It will widen the conversation and engagement around campus. With Guild funding, it would allow for the campaign to be effective; we have had extremely effective campaigns in the past such as Cut the Rent and Call It Out.
How would you respond to critics of the People’s Vote campaign who argue that a second referendum is a “Loser’s Vote”?
As I said before, the motion of my petition is not about overturning the result of the 2016 referendum. It is based on the fact that it is becoming increasingly likely that students will be negatively impacted. It would be a referendum on the final terms of Brexit – not the same question as 2016. It may not particularly good on the global stage if Remain is the preferred outcome in a People’s Vote but that is democracy. Democracy did not end on June 23rd 2016. In terms of the question, I could envisage a binary choice such as “No Deal” versus Remain. Or there could be more than two options on the ballot paper. It is up to the Electoral Commission to formulate the question. My campaign is about guiding the government on the next steps.
Has there been a decisive enough shift to Remain that warrants a People’s Vote?
It is not about cancelling Brexit. 53% in a Sky Data poll came out in favour of a vote on the terms of Brexit. It is about having our voice heard and guiding the government.
Would a People’s Vote shatter trust in politicians?
It wouldn’t remove trust but I do think it would increase transparency. There is an impasse currently in the House of Commons and elected representatives should go back to the people and admit they need the people’s input to resolve the impasse.
Would a 52-48 Remain vote resolve the issue of Brexit for a generation?
Discussions about Brexit would not stop in the event of a Remain win. That’s not a bad thing, however. The nature of our electoral system, first-past-the-post, is that it will produce a close result. If the result in 2016 was a narrow Remain victory, I don’t believe that Remain campaigners would use that as a mandate for the U.K. to join Schengen and adopt the Euro.
Doesn’t supporting Remain in a People’s Vote alienate students and staff who supported Leave in the 2016 referendum?
I put this stance in the motion because the consequences of Brexit for students will be extremely negative. Based on the facts and figures, the best option for students is to campaign to Remain. It does not alienate Brexiteers as it provides an opportunity to discuss their arguments with the Guild and in fact, we welcome that. Democracy is enhanced when there is a healthy conversation.
There is an accepted norm that the Guild is impartial in terms of political parties and not amending any candidates’ manifesto in Student Officer elections, shouldn’t this apply to a People’s Vote?
As a charity, the Guild is not affiliated with a political party. However, Remain and Leave crosses party politics as you have Labour and Conservatives on both sides of the debate. It is taking a political stance as opposed to a party. As far as I am aware, the Guild is only affiliated to one organisation which is the National Union of Students (NUS).
Featured Image: Liverpool Guild of Students