Inside the student anti-Brexit campaign in Manchester, and why we need to be doing more to secure a People’s Vote

For our Futures Sake?

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I don't know about you, but Brexit seems to be the only thing you can guarantee will be on the news today, tomorrow and probably the day after that. And next week, as well as the following month and most likely for the rest of the year. I have to admit, I'm definitely ready for something new on the news.

But here in Manchester, I met with a group who want to keep us talking about Brexit for just a little while longer.

For our Future's Sake, or FFS, are an anti-Brexit pressure group currently campaigning for a so-called 'People's Vote': essentially a chance to throw Brexit in the bin by having another referendum on the EU.

According to recent polls, those aged 18-24 want to remain in the EU by 85 per cent, compared to 15 per cent who want to leave.

FFS at Campaign Supernova, University of Manchester Students Union, September 2018.

FFS co-founder Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson says its not about re-running the 2016 debate, but instead "tackling the questions people have about it [a 'People's Vote']", explaining that those she talks to are now asking "how would you do it?" rather than "why?".

The Tab Manchester asked Amanda about how students have engaged with FFS, to which she replied "that people are onboard". Those she has spoken to may well be, but it's clear to me FFS have a long way to go in their quest to stop Brexit happening, despite recent polls showing those aged 18-24 are in favour of remaining in the EU by 7 to 1.

It's the end of September, and I sit in a much less than full Academy 2 in the University of Manchester Students' Union, waiting among a sea of empty chairs for FFS' Manchester edition of the 'People's Vote Roadshow' to start.

I turn to one of a handful of fellow audience members, asking them why it seems the turnout, for an event featuring among it's key speakers a notable Labour MP, is so poor. "Maybe they just didn't promote properly or enough?" she replies, bemused as I was as to why, if FFS is making such a great impact and getting positive feedback from students, students fail to show up to a major event that is exclusively designed with them in mind.

Jessica Moll, Scientists for EU, at the 'People's Vote Roadshow'.

One of the speakers, Jessica Moll, from the organisation 'Scientists for EU' and a fourth year Neuroscience student at UoM, confidently proclaims "young people will make the difference" in her stint at the front of the modest audience that has gathered for the 'Roadshow'. Another speaker, Bashir Ibrahim, from the official 'People's Vote' campaign, makes the claim that "young people haven't been included in the Brexit debate", continuing on to say "what annoys me is the lazy thought that young people don't do politics".

As these words hit my ears, my first thoughts are "what if young people do care about politics, but they just don't care about Brexit?". NUS rep Amatey Doku echoes Ibrahim's thinking with the announcement that "this campaign has to be led by our generation".

Again, scepticism takes hold in my mind. "Will it be led by young people or students?" I wonder. If FFS can't get students to turn out to an event like the 'People's Vote Roadshow', I find it hard to imagine a successful campaign to stop Brexit being lead by young people, or even taking shape at all.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna speaks at the 'People's Vote Roadshow'.

Finally, the main speaker takes to the stage. The Labour MP and University of Manchester graduate Chuka Umunna launches into what is clearly a polished and well rehearsed Anti-Brexit routine, engaging nonetheless.

The key takeaway? "This issue affects your generation more than any other group" Umunna asserts, telling me later when we sit down for a quick chat following the event "that students are massively important". He states "there is a real worry that am I [an older voter] imposing something on the next generation that they're going to have to live with a lot longer than me", going onto to say that this is "why we've got to bring them [young people] to the table".

When I ask him if Labour and Jeremy Corbyn's commitment to the potential of a 'People's Vote' at the then recently concluded Labour party conference has made FFS and his mission for another referendum more likely to succeed in getting a second Brexit vote, Umunna simply replies "we've made a big step forward". He later confidently says "people want a People's Vote with remain on the ballot", however admits realistically that "we have got a long way to go" and that him, FFS and the People's Vote campaign "are not there yet".

Labour voted in favour of the option of a second EU referendum at their September 2018 party conference.

As I walk away from the University of Manchester Students' Union after I've finished talking to FFS, I'm left with the impression that maybe they never will be.

If FFS is going to succeed in stopping Brexit and obtaining their desired second referendum or 'People's Vote', they have to do better than a sparsely filled hall headed by anti-Brexit activists. Let's see what the future holds. But despite all their efforts it's possible that as students, we're all just bored of Brexit.