Our Future, Our Choice: Why young people should push for a People’s Vote
A couple of weeks ago, an organisation representing young people caught the headlines after protesting Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal outside the European Union Summit in Brussels.
The group, which consisted of campaigners from Our Future, Our Choice, received both praise and criticism as it was filmed destroying mock-ups of the Withdrawal Agreement.
While Ms. May was attempting to earn the endorsement of her deal with the other EU countries, the group of around 50 members used a variety of methods to dispose of the Withdrawal Agreement, including setting fire to it with a blowtorch.
Despite the protests, Ms. May was able to get the green light for her deal. She is now set to put it to the House of Commons on Tuesday, 11 December to see whether it will pass the meaningful vote.
This demonstration was not the first conducted by the group. Since its recent acquirement of a battle bus, Our Future, Our Choice (OFOC) has been touring the country, pushing the concerns of the 75% of young people who voted against Brexit in 2016. The group’s aims are highlighted in its manifesto as it believes Brexit deprives young people of opportunities, distracts from other policy issues and goes against what the majority of young people voted for.
A week or so before the protest in Brussels, London Student spoke exclusively to Hugo Lucas, Deputy Head of Communications for the organisation, about the effect he thinks Brexit will have on young people.
Speaking on the day the political declaration was declared, Hugo said “it’s important to emphasise that it’s a political declaration; it’s not enforceable, it’s not legally binding and it’s subject to change at any time. So it basically means nothing.”
In regards to student issues, Hugo states, “there was no guarantee that Erasmus was going to continue. It was an elimination of freedom of movement and a consideration of the rights of travel and stay for education exchange programmes which basically means we will think about it.”
The issue is not just contained within the circles of young people. Following the confirmation of the Brexit deal, the Prime Minister last Thursday was grilled by senior MPs on the House of Commons Liaison Committee. The SNP’s Pete Wishart accused Ms. May of sacrificing the rights of young British people in order to fulfil her “obsession with immigration.” In response, Ms. May said “no” and explained that young British people would still be able to apply for EU Schemes such as Erasmus.
Despite this, Hugo maintained that the issue of Erasmus is not clearly laid out in the deal: “The problem is under this Prime Minister, there is a certain attitude towards immigrants of every stripe. There is this idea that they jump the queue and I can’t see a good reason why they wouldn’t continue Erasmus.”
He also adds that “when it comes to educational opportunities like Erasmus, those are carved out specifically for European students. So, the flip side for that kind of rhetoric is that they will end those kinds of special privileges. If it was replaced with a global education exchange programme on the scale of Erasmus, we’d be happy, but there is no mechanism to do that at the moment.”
As previously highlighted by London Student, the Brexit deal looks to have pushed student’s issues, particularly those from the EU, to the back. Like academics, students from EU countries will have to wait another two years, or at least until the transition period has been put in place.
“There was no mention of young people, there was no mention of students, I think there might have been a couple of mentions about Erasmus but I can’t remember. It’s a shame that it is so far down the priority list that they didn’t even bother to mention it”, Hugo says. He describes that OFOC was created because Brexit is set to “hit young people the hardest and for the longest and we are going to have to live with it.” But that “they just haven’t made any special provisions for us and for removing these opportunities.”
One of the key drawbacks of Brexit, he points out, is how it is hitting other aspects of policy which can improve young people’s lives. For instance, the problem of housing is brought up: “One in three millennials are never going to own their own home. That on its own should almost be a moment of national crisis,” Issues such as mental health and employability, he says are “all of the things that we really care about [which] aren’t being discussed because of this massive issue that we didn’t vote for.”
The group recently released a report in conjunction with the London School of Economics, highlighting the cost of a no-deal Brexit, where they claim that young people could lose more than £100,000 in lost earnings by 2050.
Hugo hopes that such evidence may persuade young people that campaigning for a second referendum on leaving the EU, known as a People’s Vote, is necessary. “There is no attempt made to appeal to young people because there is this idea, this myth that young people don’t care about politics and they don’t turn out,” he says.
“When you give them something to vote for they will vote. From what we are seeing at our events, young people will not let this lie.”
For those who are open to campaign for a second referendum, he advises to first look into the details of Brexit for a couple of minutes and decide whether they want “to be stuck on this island with Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg as the people who are pulling the strings.”
If not, he offers this rallying call: “If we leave on the 29th March that is the start not the end. We are going to be negotiating our trade position with Europe. The Canada one took seven years; it is going to be at least that. We are going to be negotiating our political relationships, we are going to be negotiating all our relationships with all those EU agencies to which we signed up. The question is do you just want to get rid, do you just want this issue to stop? Because if you do put in the work now, join OFOC, join For Our Future’s Sake, sign up to the People’s Vote, write to your MP, do anything and it might just be that you get a People’s Vote with the option to remain.
“My biggest message to young people: is do you trust the politicians to look out for you, have you felt listened to, do you think they care about you? If not, join the People’s Vote.”