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Final Say: More than 1.4m additional young people could vote in new Brexit referendum

Pro-EU MPs have questioned whether this demographic shift could 'tip the scales' in a fresh poll

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 02 August 2018 10:05 BST
Chuka Umunna and John Rentoul debate the possibility of another Brexit referendum

More than 1.4 million young people would be eligible to vote in a fresh referendum compared with the 2016 Brexit poll, raising questions about the potential impact of this new cohort of voters.

Analysis of the census data shows the group who have come of age since the EU referendum now outnumbers the Leave side’s 1.26 million majority over Remain.

Pro-EU MPs have questioned whether this demographic shift could “tip the scales” in a fresh poll amid growing speculation over the possibility that Theresa May’s plans could lead to Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

It comes after The Independent launched its Final Say campaign for the electorate to have a vote on the prime minister’s Brexit deal, which gained more than 300,000 signatures in the first 48 hours.

Pollsters generally agree that between 70 and 75 per cent of under-25s voted to stay in the EU in 2016. YouGov places the figure at 71 per cent, while former Tory donor Lord Ashcroft puts it at 73 per cent.

Recent polling also shows that 70 per cent of undergraduates think they would be worse off after Brexit, while 67 per cent would support another vote.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: “The referendum two years ago was influenced by the Conservatives’ resistance to open up the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds. Given theirs is the generation that will be most hurt by Brexit, this was wrong.

“What is striking is that getting on for one-and-a-half million of those denied that vote have turned 18 since June 2016. We know from the breakdown of the referendum that the vast majority of these young people would have voted to remain in the EU, almost the polar opposite of older people.

“This demographic shift shows why it is so important that they have the opportunity to have the final say on any chaotic Conservative deal with the option of an exit from Brexit.”

Pro-EU Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who backed the Independent’s campaign, said: ”This news could tip the scales on Brexit and bring about a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal.

“We all know that marginalising young people would be a gamble.

“Now with more than half of the population backing a people’s vote, that decision is coming home to roost. Brexit affects them more than anyone.”

Student leaders also showed their support for a fresh vote.

“You wouldn’t pay a bill without knowing what it’s for, and the British public shouldn’t be expected to swallow a Brexit deal they haven’t had a say on,” said Amatey Doku, NUS vice president for higher education.

Writing in the Independent, he said: “A movement is now building across all sections of civic society, and with new polling reporting a majority of students now back a vote on the final deal I can firmly say that students are with you.”

His concerns were echoed by Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, who said Brexit had been an act of “intergenerational betrayal”.

She said: “I think if we look back at the original referendum campaign and the debate since, I think the real thing lacking is voice of young people.

“While we should not assume that young people are all more likely to be pro-EU, I think the evidence suggests that the majority are.

“I also think they are more aware of what they stand to lose.”

But respected pollster Sir John Curtice cautioned that demographic shifts would not tip the balance of a referendum towards Remain until 2022, if turnout remained at similar levels and voters did not change their minds.

However, there are other factors at play, such as those who abstained in the 2016 vote, who are marginally more likely to back Remain, he said.

The Strathclyde University professor told The Independent: “I do have to point out that, on a second referendum, it is by no means guaranteed to overturn the result of the first one. It is more of a 50/50 chance.

“Both sides are pretty energised.”

He added: “If you are going to get a second referendum, it is going to be because the government has lost control of the House of Commons – or after a general election.

“It would be more likely if Labour changes its position or if the government decides it needs it to get out of jail. That is the only way the Brexiteers and the Anna Soubrys of this world would be able to agree.”

A string of senior politicians have backed the Final Say campaign, including former prime minister Tony Blair, former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg and prominent Conservative MPs Justine Greening and Dominic Grieve.

Labour’s Chuka Umunna and Ms Moran, the Lib Dem education spokesman, have also lent their support.

It comes as Ms May’s attempts efforts to bypass Brussels and deal directly with European nations floundered, as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, poured cold water on a key part of the prime minister’s Brexit plans.

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