Brexit: growing support for a second referendumilovetheeu

Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate as Labour Party leader rests heavily on listening to his members and giving a voice to those who aren’t usually heard in politics. These two groups have something important in common: they are disproportionately young. Corbyn's support, then, is in no small part dependent on a youth surge. Yet despite claiming to be a leader who champions his 'core' voters, on Brexit he has ignored them. 75% of these young people voted to remain in the EU, but Labour currently supports Brexit. Perhaps more importantly, by staying on the fence, Labour wastes its position as the force best placed to democratically oppose Brexit – the most disastrous choice of our generation.

So far, all Labour has been able to muster are meaningless statements that support leaving the EU while ‘retaining the benefits of staying in’. Even its own MPs don’t seem to understand the line: Dianne Abbott called for a second referendum, Jeremy Corbyn disagreed; Keir Starmer supported paying for access to EU markets, Tom Watson disagreed; John McDonnell supported staying in the single market, Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn disagreed.

As young people, we are the people whom this vote will affect for the longest

Labour’s justification for this lack of clarity is rather shallow. It is nothing to do with what most of them think is right, but merely that it might threaten certain key seats. This argument, however, is no longer tenable. A poll for the new student campaign, Our Future, Our Choice (OFOC), found that Labour could nearly double its youth support if it were to get off the fence and oppose Brexit; whilst 28% of young people would support a pro-Brexit Labour party, 46% of 18-24 year olds would support an anti-Brexit Labour party (YouGov/Youthonomics).

When asked about his party’s ambiguous Brexit policy on the Andrew Marr show last week, Corbyn stated plainly: ‘I want to win the next election’. Nobody can criticise this honest pragmatism, but it is now clear that Labour’s ambiguity on Brexit is not compatible with future electoral success. Indeed, even its flagship social policies would be significantly harder to implement in a post-Brexit Britain. With the government splintering further each day and May’s position increasingly fragile, Labour have the chance to be the opposition their voters and future voters would like them to be.

Clearly, then, Corbyn should change Labour’s approach to Brexit. This should not just be for reasons of internal party politics, however. Instead he should be appealing more fundamentally to the democratic processes which he has so frequently praised. As David Davis put it: ‘if a democracy cannot change its mind then it ceases to be a democracy’. Democracy isn’t static; it is an ongoing process, adapting to new events and crises in light of new knowledge and new young voters. Indeed, by the time we are due to leave in 2020, Britain will be a remain country. Taking into account demographic changes towards a younger population (and the expected voting intentions of those who were too young to vote in 2016), a democratic process that truly reflected the country would yield a remain vote. 

As new knowledge comes to light, this argument is only strengthened. That the government, let alone Labour, have stood by while leaked impact reports have predicted what we arguably already knew - that Brexit will hurt our economy - is remarkable. The leaked information overshadowed May’s trip to China, destroying her naive hope that the visit could symbolise a vision for a new, global economic outlook. She returned, stating categorically that we would be leaving the customs union, still somehow holding her nerve in the face of mounting discontent.


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Where were Labour? A few muffled calls for the full reports to be issued was all Corbyn’s party could offer. Even Labour’s attempts to divert attention away from the EU question by focusing on ambitious social policies are futile when Brexit threatens to consume them all – housing, the NHS, the environment, and virtually everything else.

But not all hope it lost. If Corbyn were to adopt a second referendum as Labour policy, the possibility of change remains open. As young people, we are the people who this vote will affect for the longest. We are also the people who have the best chance of pressuring those in power - and especially Jeremy Corbyn - that for us Brexit does not represent taking back control, but losing control of our futures