"This Council calls on the Government to hold a further referendum before exiting the European Union" - Cllr Simon jealRead Now
I will be supporting the motion tonight. I want to use my time to focus not on the politics or the process of Brexit, but on people, some of those who are likely to suffer hardship if we continue towards the current Bad Deal or No Deal, unless a better deal or other solution such as a second public vote can be found. In particular I want to focus on three groups- people born in EEA countries currently living in Britain, people who identify as part of minority groups and young people who were denied a say back in 2016.
I campaigned for and voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, as did the vast majority of Penge residents and by a small majority of Bromley voters. One of my saddest memories of that campaign was speaking to those who supported remaining in the EU, those weren’t able to vote but whose lives would be greatly affected by the outcome- both British residents from EEA countries resident in Britain and 16- & 17-year olds (who were denied the opportunity to vote then but can do so now).
According to the most recent figures I could find, from 2016. Workers born in the EEA held 748,000 or 14 percent of jobs in London, compared to just 6 percent in the UK as a whole, those from the EEA were more likely to be ‘over-qualified’, meaning a higher percentage are graduates working in non-graduate jobs, than workers born in the UK or non-EEA countries.
These figures also show those from EEA countries are proportionally particularly employed in many positions, in hotels, catering and food services- making up almost a third of workers in these sectors, as well as forming a major part of the workforce in construction, finance and IT, education and public services such as health and social care- representing 61,000 health and care workers as one example. Workers from EEA countries are performing vital roles in both the private and public sectors and are an important part of our communities in Bromley.
It is therefore concerning that the government is currently indicating there will no preference given to EU citizens after Brexit and will focus on ‘skilled workers’ (ignoring that many of those doing such roles are skilled but underemployed , or that ‘unskilled’ jobs are nonetheless critically important to our local economy) despite clear evidence many businesses and entire sectors are reliant on those coming from the EU to work for them. Having had no say in the referendum it seems unfair those so many will lose out after years, in some cases decades, of living, working and contributing to Britain.
Alongside this, and something I hope concerns all of us in the chamber, is the unprecedented rise in hate crime since the referendum in 2016, not just in the UK but across Europe and the United States- the growing threat of extremism, of targeting and abuse directed towards people because of their skin colour, nationality, religion, sexuality or other characteristics is deeply worrying- as has been the tendency of ‘populist’ politicians, on all sides, creating further division through ‘them and us’ messaging and negative, ‘dog-whistle’ politics to try and harness support when throughout history, in times of economic and social upheaval, those who look different or are ‘outsiders’ often become scapegoats.
Taking just one example, the rise of antisemitism in recent years, not just on the far right but also on the far left and not just in the UK, I recently heard holocaust survivor Susan Pollack speak at our Labour party national conference and I took away her words of warning/ “I think we are only going in the wrong direction and it is incumbent on all of us in this room, whether you are Jewish or not, to stand up very loudly and say this is not OK and we need to do something very urgently about it.” It is vitally important we heed the warnings of those who have lived through such evil and know the rising danger of rising hate when they see it.
Those who voted leave were undoubtedly almost all not doing so for racist reasons and the current rise in hate crime is clearly not only caused by Brexit, but at least in part, the division that has occurred following the referendum has given rise to targeting of minorities and, while I can’t honestly say a second vote carries no risk of making things worse, neither is carrying on the way things are now going to make anything better- after all, at some point it will be clear that the promises made of a post-Brexit Britain can’t be delivered- taking history as a guide, communities who lose most from a bad deal or economic downturn will be looking for those to blame- I very much doubt it will end up being those who look or sound like George Galloway, Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage.
Finally, I’d like to focus on those under 18 at the time of the referendum whose futures will be forever changed by it- a YouGov poll published last month found those now aged 18 and 19, who can now vote but were too young in 2016, would vote to remain by a margin of seven to one or 87%.
I graduated and started job-hunting in 2009, just after the financial crisis and in the midst of the recession, I’m part of the so called ‘left behind’ millennials- but I was still incredibly fortunate- I got to study in the Netherlands as part of the EU’s Erasmus scheme, my university benefited from tens of millions in EU funding that provided better facilities while I was studying and I had rights (even if I didn’t need to use them) to go and find a job in any of 29 other countries if I couldn’t find one here.
But for young people now, some who have just started university or are on apprenticeships as mentioned earlier tonight, in a few months they are likely to lose the rights and chances I had, lose the funding and opportunities the EU provided just as the economic consequences of Brexit mean more and more graduate, apprenticeships and entry level jobs are likely to move out of London to places like Dublin and Frankfurt, while unaffordable unpaid internships remain the only way of accessing many career paths and public sector workers remain stuck in the overworked and underpaid conditions after eight yeas of cuts, under a government which may have said ‘Austerity is over’ but takes no action to improve public funding, pay or working conditions.
These young people will be deprived of the chances I and older generations had - all because of a decision they weren’t able to participate in. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that they would want an opportunity for a public vote on a decision that will so limit their futures, having been shut out from the previous one.
For these reasons, along with others my colleagues have set out in their contributions to the debate tonight, I support the option of a public vote before Brexit hurtles to a disastrous conclusion and will be voting in favour of the motion.
Councillor Simon Jeal