Brexit: Student backing for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour falls as support for Final Say referendum jumps

Support for Labour among students has fallen by 10 percentage points in the last year

Eleanor Busby,Joe Watts
Monday 28 January 2019 01:13
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Luciana Berger demands Jeremy Corbyn back a people's vote: ' At a time when Labour should be championing a People’s Vote the leadership avoids answering that call'

Student backing for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has fallen amid growing support for a Final Say referendum on Brexit, a new poll has found.

The survey revealed that backing for Labour among the core group of young supporters who have helped maintain Mr Corbyn’s power dropped 10 percentage points in a year.

At the same time the group’s desire to see a new referendum take place on the outcome of Brexit has risen as the clock ticks down to 29 March.

The poll commissioned by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) comes after a cross-party group of MPs, including several from Labour, accused Mr Corbyn of “standing in the way of the younger generation having a say” on Brexit.

The MPs announced last week that they would not bring forward a new referendum proposal for the Commons to vote on this Tuesday, because without Mr Corbyn’s direct support it would have no chance of success.

This week Ms May will seek support in the Commons for an attempt to go back to Brussels and renegotiate the deal she has already agreed with the EU, in particular seeking changes to the Irish backstop – though European figures have ruled out any concessions.

The poll carried out for HEPI by YouthSight found that backing for Labour among a weighted sample of more than 1,000 undergraduates was at just over half, with some 52 per cent saying they would vote for Mr Corbyn’s party.

But this was down by 10 percentage points on the same survey undertaken just over a year ago in December 2017, when 62 per cent said they would back Labour.

Support for Mr Corbyn’s party was still significantly higher than its rivals – backing among students for the Conservatives fell one point, from 14 per cent to 13 per cent, and for the Lib Dems, it rose one point from 7 per cent to 8 per cent.

But the sizeable fall will not go unnoticed for a party that prides itself on representing the views of young people looking for a better future.

This could leave Corbyn unable to guarantee the student vote to the same levels which boosted his result in the last general election

Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at HEPI

At the same time the poll showed that students had increasingly strong feelings on Brexit and the need for the country to have a people’s vote to determine its path – less than half of those questioned, some 43 per cent, were old enough to vote at the last referendum in 2016.

The survey showed that 69 per cent of the group now backed giving the British public a Final Say on the outcome of Brexit, compared to 62 per cent who wanted a new vote in December 2017.

Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at HEPI, said: “While students generally continue to be both pro-Remain and supportive of the Labour Party, these results suggest Labour’s current position over Brexit may have cost them some support among students.

“This could leave Corbyn unable to guarantee the student vote to the same levels which boosted his result in the last general election.”

Brexit: £17 billion already ripped out of UK public purse due to decision to quit EU, research shows

The Independent’s campaign for a Final Say referendum has been backed by the National Union of Students and more than 1.1 million people having signed the petition.

NUS vice president Amatey Doku said the findings reflect the fact that students overwhelmingly voted for Remain in 2016 and continue to be in favour of staying in the EU by a large margin.

He said: “Any party which enables Brexit risks losing support from students, as this report shows.

“That’s why if politicians want our support, they must represent us during this most critical of moments, the ripples of which will be felt most keenly by my generation. The best way to do this is to support a people’s vote on the Brexit deal, and to truly give us a final say.”

The fall in student support for Labour could be explained by several different reasons, but the concurrent rise in support for a new vote just as Mr Corbyn’s own MPs accuse him of prevarication over the issue is stark.

At an event on the steps of parliament last week Labour and Tory MPs announced they would not table a cross-party amendment for a second referendum because it stood no chance of passing the Commons without Mr Corbyn’s support.

Luciana Berger, a former shadow health minister, said: “Regrettably the Labour leadership won’t commit to an achievable policy and yet we know that the majority of Labour voters, supporters and members want a final say on any Brexit deal.

“Yet at a time when Labour should be championing a people’s vote, the leadership avoids answering that call.”

She added: “There are millions of young people in our country that supported the Labour Party at the last general election. Over two million of them were under the age of 18 in 2016. They would today now have a vote. And so many whom I speak to cannot understand why Labour is standing in the way of the younger generation having a say on this.”

Education secretary Damian Hinds says no-deal Brexit must remain possible

Three of Mr Corbyn’s MPs later moved in parliament to redraft his strategy, so it ties Labour unambiguously to giving Britain a new referendum.

The leader has already submitted the Labour Party’s own amendment setting out how he thinks the country should proceed, but it disappointed many backers of the People’s Vote campaign because it failed to fully commit the party to backing a new referendum.

Mr Corbyn’s approach would require ministers to find time for MPs only to “consider and vote on options” including renegotiating the withdrawal agreement and also then “legislating to hold a public vote” on any deal that successfully passes through the Commons.

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.

HEPI sponsored Wave 5 of the HEPI/YouthSight Monitor, which was answered by 1,048 full-time undergraduate students and undertaken between 4-8 January. Weights are used to ensure the sample is representative by age, gender and university type

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