Back in November, the government published a list of “40 reasons to back the Brexit deal”. It was easily digestible, with a clear emphasis on quantity over quality, and invited the reader to share it at the bottom. Could this have been a badly misjudged attempt to reach out to young people, marginalised and ignored for so long?
Probably not. Why bother talking to them when you’re so busy with important things like organising traffic jams? If we had been addressed by this list, however, a few words might have come to mind in response, the first three being: "How dare you?"
OFOC activists prepare press ahead of Dominic Raab's vision for Brexit
How dare you boast about the end of free movement as an achievement? This is a sickening loss we will mourn for decades, an intergenerational theft of opportunity. A poll from 2016 found that 78% of young people would miss opportunities to live across the EU - to work, to study, to form relationships with people from other countries. We are not remotely convinced by those cynical words in the Withdrawal Agreement, where you "agree to consider conditions for entry and stay for purposes such as research, study, training and youth exchanges." These are our rights you are "considering", don’t think for a moment we will settle for anything less.
The tone isn’t consistently that smug, but it’s difficult to choose between smugness or vacuous placation. Your assurances that we will be able to "participate" in programmes like Erasmus and Horizon are close to meaningless in the wider context of Brexit: it will be more difficult for academics to travel to and from abroad for research purposes, and the unwelcome environment on this side of the channel makes us understandably less appealing to EU students - who would want to go to a country where you’re called a ‘Citizen of nowhere’? We’re already losing the best and brightest minds by leaving: the number of EU postgraduate students enrolling at Russell Group universities went down by 9% this academic year. How many more bright young minds will go elsewhere if Brexit becomes a reality?
While we’re at it, leaving ECJ jurisdiction simply isn’t something to be proud of - in reality it's a terrifying prospect for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We’ll be further from common EU efforts against child kidnapping, and it’ll become far more difficult to resolve messy cross-border divorces. The political declaration from June claims that the UK being part of Hague convention will be fine. But it doesn’t give firm enough protections, and we’ll lose direct applicability of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child through EU law. In fact, a coalition of child rights organisations warned as early as 2017 that relying on the Hague convention alone could result in rights for children being "watered down".
The very process of trying to fix these problems and spin them as positives takes up political energy that should be devoted to solving real issues beyond the Brexit mess. Rather than being our salvation, the establishment of a ‘Joint Committee’ ensures that we will spend the next generation obsessing over each detail of our relationship with the EU, rather than addressing problems inherent to our society.
Finally, even the very title of the list is inaccurate: what May has presented is not a deal in any meaningful sense of the word. We face one-and-a-half further years in transition, painstakingly hammering out the details, because the Withdrawal Agreement isn’t even a future relationship deal. Every week that we spend £500m on negotiations is time and money that we will never get back, time and money that could be used productively instead. This so-called deal is a slap in the face to every young person in this country. No reason on this list convinces me to support May’s so-called “deal”, rather they impress upon me the necessity and urgency of a People’s Vote.