The Speaker
Wednesday, 29 May 2024 – 23:17

Our Future, Our Choice activist Phoebe Potter talks Brexit and young people in politics

Back in 2016, young people voted overwhelmingly to back remaining in the EU; Our Future, Our Choice is fighting to make sure that those voices are not forgotten in the increasingly muddied Brexit debate.
OFOC’s head of mobilisation, Phoebe Potter, has achieved great success in her role, building a movement that projects the voices of young people throughout the media.
The Speaker spoke to her about Brexit, young people and Jeremy Corbyn. 
Our future, our choice is a movement aimed at giving young people a say over the final Brexit deal, why is it so vital that young people do get this say when so few young people vote?
“It is a line thrown around again and again by politicians and the media that ‘young people don’t bother voting’ – which many take to mean that young people have no right to a voice in politics. 
First of all, there is no reason why anyone – young or old – who didn’t vote shouldn’t have a voice in politics at any point. There are a multitude of reasons why people are more or less likely to vote, with factors often based around things such as if your parents normally vote or your level of political education (which can be linked to a number of other socio-economic factors). Voting is the best way to have your voice heard in our democratic society – but it is not the only way. Not voting once does not deny you from having a voice until another election rolls around. 
Secondly, the number of young people voting in the 2016 referendum was originally wildly misreported and has such been used as an excuse to claim that young people ‘don’t care that much about the EU’. In fact, the turnout for 18 – 24s was roughly double what was originally reported – roughly 64% (only around 8% below the national average). 
Thirdly, the odds are stacked against young people when it comes to registering and turning out to vote. Young people are far more likely than any other age group to move address regularly (primarily being renters/students) and having to re-register each time. Even small things make it harder for young people to register or turn out – you still have to physically print and send forms to get a proxy or postal vote – lots of young people don’t own a printer!
But most importantly, young people often feel left out and excluded from the political process. We go into schools all the time, and though we meet passionate and intelligent young people all the time, they are often not equipped with the political literacy tools they need to fully engage in our democratic processes straight from school/college. We need to seriously address political education in schools – the process of voting is not an obvious one (the fact you have to register/where you vote/how you find out about candidates/what your vote means). Anyone suggesting that ‘young people don’t turn out to vote’ needs to follow it up with the questions ‘Why is that? And how do we engage young people better so they feel empowered and motivated to vote?’. 
Brexit is a monumental decision that is going to affect young people more acutely and for longer than anyone else. It is vital they have a real say over their futures.” 
Votes at 16 have been a controversial topic, but one with increasing traction in recent years. Do you feel that this is something that would engage more young people in politics and do you think that it is the right age for civic participation to begin?
“Votes at 16 is a really interesting topic and OFOC certainly supports the increased political engagement it would bring. From a personal point of view, I think the strongest argument for votes at 16 is that it would force politicians to engage (and seek the votes of) the young demographic who they so often are able to ignore. 
Around the age of 16 – 18, when young people are leaving college or school, is a really important time in life which is greatly affected by political decisions. Apprentice schemes/funding for universities/tuition fees (among many, many others) – these are all political decisions that will affect young people but that they often haven’t had a voice-over in elections. Lowering the voting age to 16 would force politicians to listen and engage with young people and their views and particular issues.”
The recently leaked Yellowhammer memo shows how damaging no deal would be. How do you feel about no-deal generally, and should leaving with no deal be an option in a second referendum?
“The Yellowhammer memo was shocking in its revelations – not because we hadn’t heard these revelations before, but because they were laid out in black and white in an (impartial) civil service memo dated the 1st August. We cannot claim these are outdated claims that we can prepare for – they are a stark threat to people’s livelihoods that cannot be prepared for in the weeks we have before 31st October. 
No deal is an abstract idea that has come into fruition post-2016 referendum. It was not something that anyone on the Vote Leave team (many of whom, including Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, are now running the government) advocated for – in fact they repeatedly told the public that we would get a great deal when leaving the EU. 
What we have discovered since 2016 is that ‘leave’ can mean a multitude of things – ranging from Norway/Canada style trade deals to a hard-Brexit on world trade organisation (WTO) terms. Since 2016 the ‘leave’ side has tried to conflate the scope of opinion that voted for leave into one homogenous voice – this does not represent the 17.4 million people who voted to ‘leave’ the EU and have a complete range of opinions about how we leave amongst them. 
As regards to what would be on the ballot paper in a People’s Vote, this would be up for Parliament – not us – to decide. What is most important is that what is put on the ballot paper is not an abstract term (as it was in 2016) but a legitimate, negotiated and viable deal with the EU (whether this be Theresa May’s deal or a far harder Brexit closer to WTO terms – what a lot of people would consider ‘no deal’). It is also crucial that the deal we currently have is an option on the ballot paper – almost half the country voted for this option in 2016 and most opinion polls have shown a swing towards a majority for it since 2016.”
Jeremy Corbyn has proposed himself as interim prime minister to prevent a no-deal Brexit, do you support this and do you feel that other parties (SNP, Lib Dems, etc) should be on board with supporting him or instead seek an immediate election and extension to article 50?
“A no-deal Brexit has been shown to be catastrophic for the country and a real and serious threat to livelihoods up and down the UK, as well as the Good Friday Agreement. It should be every politician’s first priority to prevent such a self-imposed act of devastation to the country – the government is not currently preparing for damage limitation of an unavoidable event but imposing it on the country. Politicians are elected to make the best decisions for the country and their constituents. That is a massive responsibility that should be upheld by preventing no-deal by any means. 
It is completely right that the leader of the opposition has been the first to propose a government of national unity to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and we urge all politicians to work together to prevent no deal. What Corbyn has proposed is a temporary government to secure an extension to article 50 in order to call a general election (he is not trying to implement himself as prime minister). In whatever form this temporary government comes (whether with Corbyn as leader of it or not) it is crucial that is used to prevent no deal by securing an extension in which a poll on Brexit (whether general election or People’s Vote) can be held. 
With regards to that poll – it may come after a general election, but it could be held before and it must be understood that it forms a change of political process that makes the swiftest, most decisive and democratic to end the Brexit crisis. “
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