At the All Party Parliamentary Group on Better Brexit for Young People, Brexit engagement youth charity My Life My Say, Stephen Kinnock MP, and the Northern Irish Commission for Children and Young People presented an ambitious agenda to get regional youth heard in the Brexit process.
Mete Coban, CEO of My Life My Voice, discussed his organisation’s work in canvassing government in Brussels and London on the worries of young people, and unveiled a bold plan to create a serious of public events and conferences. Their focus will be on the specific demographic and political divisions that were highlighted by Brexit, particularly the intergenerational and geographical divide.
The Northern Irish Commission for Children and Young People also, discussed ambitious plans, and brought its cross border report on youth concerns and views in Ireland’s ‘It’s Our Brexit Too’. Written with Ireland’s Ombudsman for Children, the report stresses the desire among young people in both the North and South of Ireland to maintain reciprocal and free cross-border relationships on employment, healthcare, education, policing, sport, and culture. The report also recommended UK membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) to formalise reciprocated healthcare rights.
Several youth representatives of the Commission spoke on additional concerns: that cross-border and children’s issues had been all but ignored in the national referendum campaign, and of the Commission’s goal to hold to account politicians who promised additional services funding following leaving the EU. Academics and youth charity workers from Wales and Scotland also spoke, namely Dr Elin Royles of Aberystwyth University, Catrin James of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services, and Dr Daniela Sime of the Young Academy of Scotland and University of Strathclyde. Across all the regions a common thread emerged in that all feared both their geography and their youth would be ignored in the Brexit process, and in policy after leaving the EU.
Their fears are well founded: of 251 government MPs not one was in attendance. Though the APPG was co-chaired by Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, Kinnock is known as a maverick MP historically at odds with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party, and has little direct influence on Labour decision-making. The sole Conservative Party presence was Joe Porter, a councillor from Endon with Stanley Parish Council. The prospect of this coalition having no supportive in-the-loop MPs in either government or opposition seemed very real. My Life My Say have also been making their case to the EU side of the negotiations, but expressed frustration with the nature of the negotiations, arguing that:
‘there is a serious, serious worry that our generation will be sidelined from this whole process’.
Kinnock however, who supports the Commission’s recommendation of EEA membership, seemed optimistic of having youth voices heard, and pragmatically addressing the divides in Britain. He referenced pro soft-Brexit MPs in Labour and the Conservatives’ recent successes, saying:
‘I believe we are managing to win these arguments and out parties over. We need a Brexit that accepts the results, without wrecking the economy’.
Optimism should perhaps be tempered, particularly on Northern Ireland. Despite Chloe Smith MP, the Undersecretary of State for Northern Ireland, speaking at the conference where the Commission’s report was unveiled and stating, ‘we want this [mutual residency and working rights] to continue after Brexit’, the Irish border plans are still in disarray. Ireland’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister diplomatically downplayed the UK’s proposal for ‘soft’ border controls, responding with:
‘I am not sure the EU will be able to support a situation whereby 80% of companies that trade north-south and south-north will actually protect the integrity of the EU single market’.
Regardless, this coalition is unlikely to go quietly. My Life My Say will be rolling out their ambitious plan in the coming months. Whether they will get any traction remains to be seen.