Brexit: The students’ view
Hull sixth-form pupils on what should happen next, now Theresa May’s deal has been defeated
Sixth-form students St Mary’s College, Hull, in England: Emily Degg, Juliet Joseph, Piper Wilson, Nishan Singh, Claric e Noble, Somto Onoh, Niamh Flanagan, William Su, Freya Whittaker, Princess Lobaha.
The school: St Mary’s College, or SMC, in Hull in England, is a mixed, non-feepaying, Catholic school of just under 2,000 pupils. About one-third of the students speak English as an additional language. It is one of the 70 top-performing schools in the UK.
The sixth-form students: Emily Degg, Juliet Joseph, Piper Wilson, Nishan Singh, Clarice Noble, Somto Onoh, Niamh Flanagan, William Su, Freya Whittaker, Princess Lobaha. The students were too young to vote at the time of the referendum, but they all say they would have supported Remain. Now, however, their views differ about what should happen next.
Was anyone here in favour of a Leave vote?
Piper: I would have voted for Remain, but now we made that decision, I think we need to follow through with what we said, because that’s democracy. If it comes to a second referendum, I would vote Leave, even though I do think there are lots of benefits of being in a trade bloc and being in the EU customs union. But now we said we would leave, we need to leave, because we can’t just make Britain look like, for want of a better word, a pushover. We need to be a strong country.
William: I was on the fence about Brexit. It was the biggest political and economic shift in who knows how many years, and at the same time, it caused uncertainty. [But] in times of uncertainty we have the opportunity to do something else. After the Brexit process had begun, we could have made trade deals with Canada, Japan and other trading partners. We had a lot to risk, but I always thought there was potentially a lot to be gained [by leaving].
Even if you weren’t in favour of Leave, do you think the result of the referendum should be respected? Or should there be a second referendum?
William: I don’t think we want another referendum. The last one was so divisive. I think people have Brexit fatigue.
Somto: I think many people would like to stay. I hear it from friends, family especially. I think people have changed their minds.
Juliet: I’d like everyone to be given both sides. Everyone was so into the immigration side, they were blinded by that and didn’t think about the impacts to the economy.
Freya: There should be a second referendum based on the actual facts. If people have the facts and still decide to leave, then we leave. But we need an independent body to lay out the facts. It seems only fair that we vote based on all the information, rather than the half-truths we were given. We need a separate Brexit committee to overview everything, just the facts, without any view on whether we leave or remain.
Niamh: I think there’s a mandate to hold a second referendum, but I worry that post-Brexit, we all have to live with each other as a society and a nation, and it’s about understanding the political implications of trying to revoke the decision to leave. I understand and completely sympathise with the democratic argument for another referendum ... but I feel for us to turn around and say “that wasn’t right, that’s not what we wanted” would be a betrayal [to people who voted to leave.]
How do you feel as a young person in Britain, thinking about the future beyond Brexit?
Niamh: There is the very real, logistical impact of Brexit, economically and in terms of jobs and opportunities. But there are also the social and cultural implications of the divisions it has created in families, in cities. The political debate has gone so far from any kind of civilised debate. It’s turned very nasty very quickly...How are we going to move to a place of politics that’s more co-operative and less divided? It’s a very pessimistic [outlook] for a young person who’s interested in politics.
Freya: As a mathematician, [I’m troubled by] the misuse of statistics and data by the government, and the fact that nobody wants to investigate that before we do something with a serious impact on the whole of England. Adults and kids and old people, we’re all going to suffer from it. No matter what. People say, ‘oh lots of old people voted for Leave, so why is it fair that we have to live with that?’ But old people will suffer too, whether it’s a lack of medications, or they won’t be able to travel to see family as easily. Why are we not focusing on the gross misconduct with the statistics and politicians misusing data? Why is everyone talking about Brexit and not the things that caused it?
Princess: I first moved to the UK from Italy in the year of the referendum. The main reason for [people voting to leave] was because of immigration, and I think it’s quite selfish to deny immigrants the chance of a better future. [As an immigrant] I feel like I’m not wanted. I felt like when people voted Leave, they were saying, ‘we don’t want you’.
William: My family came here from Vietnam. I think immigration was a major factor. But when I talk to people who were big on leaving, they always emphasise illegal immigration. It’s a totally different issue, but a lot of people mush it together.
Clarice: I feel like a lot of people ... forgot about how taking away the free movement of people would affect them.
What should happen next?
Emily: We’ve voted to leave, whether or not people were misinformed, and I do think now we should go through with it, and face whatever consequences. Personally, I wouldn’t have voted to leave, because I do think there are a lot of benefits to being in the European Union, but I don’t think we should have a second referendum, just because we didn’t like the result.
William: Although Brexit is very big, we shouldn’t forget about the other things. We need to get on with it.
Piper: We need to leave now. The country has spoken and Theresa May has to act on what we’ve done. [May’s deal] was like we were in the EU, but we’re not. It was almost like a half Brexit. That’s not what the country voted for.
Who understands the Irish Border issue? [About half the hands in the room go up]
Freya: I’m half-Irish. My family are from Sligo and Enniskillen, so we’ve got both sides of the Border covered. The Good Friday agreement established a soft border. People who live near the Border travel freely back and forth. There’s no Border control, no Border check, no feeling of difference. By putting a hard border there, it will make everything that was solved by the Good Friday agreement completely void. It will make people feel completely separate from each other. It will mean people have to travel through border control every single day to work. You can’t erase the Good Friday agreement just because England’s bigger.
What message would you give to the politicians who are deciding your future?
Princess: Take into consideration all the consequences of your decisions.
Emily: Look at the wider ramifications. What’s going to happen 10 or 20 years down the line?
Piper: Listen to what the people have already said, and leave.
Nishan: They should take everything into account and make a good decision.
Niamh: Cast aside the infighting and keep the national interest in mind. Find a better compromise.
Parts of this conversation have been edited for clarity and length
Hull University students on Brexit: “It’s one of the worst things that ever happened”
Sam Page, a student of politics at Hull University, was too young to vote last time, but if there is a second referendum – a prospect he does not support – he knows exactly what he will do. “I will vote for Brexit. My reasoning is economic sovereignty and the British parliament being the final say in the British land. I do want to be part of Europe, but I want to be part of the EC (European Community), of the Europe before the Lisbon treaty, not the current EU.”
People says a second referendum would be “bad for democracy”, says music student Tim Lyons. “But if democracy can’t change its mind, what good is democracy? The vote should never have happened in the first place. It was about satisfying backbenchers, rather than the good of the country. Now it’s an absolute mess. It’s one of the worst things that ever happened.”
Despite his misgivings, he thinks there is no choice now but for Britain to plough ahead and leave. “It’s what the people voted for. The last referendum was so divisive, it wouldn’t be worth going through all that again.”
His friend, law student Klaudia Jezewska, who was born in Poland and lived there until she was eight, says she voted Remain because, “I’d love to stay in this country”. But she agrees another referendum now would be “messy and divisive”.
A referendum “is just an opinion poll. It doesn’t have to be legally binding. I think we should have another one, and just call it an opinion poll,” says student Charlie Price, who voted Remain.
Brexit has left the United Kingdom divided and chaotic, he says. “England is divided against Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
Do they think too much has been made of the Irish Border? Not at all, says his friend Ellis Jammeh. The Border “wasn’t the main argument for or against. It wasn’t a big issue at the time I voted. But the Irish Border’s not a non-issue, not at all.”
Jammeh is despondent about the outcomes from the events of this week. There’s not much else to hope for now, he says. “Other than a shake-up of government.”
Price says he gives Theresa May credit for standing her ground for so long. “But now she needs to step down, and give someone else a chance to sort it out.”