The big yellow ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ bus made its stop in Canterbury on the last week of the autumn term, with Kent Union President, Aaron Thompson, and University of Kent Chancellor, Gavin Esler, in attendance.
Theresa May’s Brexit divorce bill was emphatically rejected in the House of Commons by 230 votes - the largest defeat for a government history - but survived a no-confidence motion to remove her as PM.
Kent Union President Aaron Thompson labeled the vote on the European Union (EU) Withdrawal Bill as a “historic defeat” for the UK government on Facebook, with 432 MPs voting against her, many of whom were members of her own party.
Thompson, who is also an activist for the pro-remain group For our Future’s Sake (FFS), said the outcome “shows that this country has been successful in lobbying their MPs and lobbying government to vote down the deal as it does not serve the people. Now more than ever we must continue to lobby our MPs and stop this confusion and lack of movement. Let’s make a firm decision as a country.”
The majority of Kent's MPs rejected the government’s deal, despite the Prime Minister’s concerns that rejecting it would cause "catastrophic harm" to the electorates’ trust in politicians.
Among those who voted against the proposals was Rosie Duffield, Member of Parliament for Canterbury, Whitstable and surrounding villages, who has been actively campaigning for a second referendum on EU membership.
The 47-year-old, who was elected as the constituency’s MP in 2017 after displacing senior Conservative Sir Julian Brazier, said that she “cannot vote for any deal that will make my constituents poorer that will drive investment away” and will be voting “no confidence in Theresa May’s government” in “any future votes of no confidence brought before the house over the next few weeks”.
In a letter written over Christmas, Duffield wrote to her constituents: “It has been confirmed by the Government’s own analyses and those of other respected institutions such as the Bank of England and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, that this deal threatens the economic prosperity of the UK. All outcomes currently on the table would leave Britain worse off.”
She added, in relation to students: “[Those] leaving Canterbury’s universities need well paid, secure jobs; this deal not only threatens livelihoods, but it threatens futures.”
Miss Duffield joined Kent Union and Canterbury Christchurch Students’ Union President in creating a joint statement in support of a second referendum.
It reads: “The consequences from Brexit on the University sector will have an effect on research and innovation, International student recruitment, Erasmus opportunities for British students and creates a lack of stability for EU students and staff.
“Brexit has large ramifications on those in the Canterbury area: not only does Brexit tangibly affect the staff and students of all three city universities, but it also affects the tourism, local businesses and residents in the local area.”
Kent’s only Labour MP also took part in the following day’s bid by Labour to overthrow the government but fell short by 19 votes, 325 to 306. Mrs May came out victorious with parliamentary support from both Tory-backbenchers and Democratic Unionist MPs who had voted against her Brexit proposals the day before.
Over the past two years, the Prime Minister has been trying to decide how Britain will trade with the rest of Europe once the country has left the EU, but the events of the last 2 weeks have raised fresh concerns for the residents of the county and students at the University of Kent, as the 29 March deadlines looms.
Business chiefs in Kent have also come out in anger over the delay, which according to Jo James of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, is generating "growing anger" among firms.
"Basic questions on real-world operational issues remain unanswered, and firms now find themselves facing the unwelcome prospect of a messy and disorderly exit from the EU on March 29.
“The overriding priority for both government and Parliament must now be to avoid the clear danger that a ‘no deal’ exit on March 29 would pose to businesses and communities across the UK.
"Every second that ticks by sees more businesses spending money on unwanted changes, activating contingency plans or battening down the hatches and halting investment, as they try to anticipate a future that is no clearer now than it was at the time of the referendum result.”
A No-deal Brexit rehearsal in Kent last week, where only 89 trucks took part in trial of emergency traffic system designed to cope with 6,000 vehicles, was branded 'a waste of time' by critics and opposition leaders.
A survey conducted by Survation back in December showing that Canterbury would vote for Remain if there was another Brexit referendum, with only 45% of respondents saying that they would Leave again.
Many students are becoming impatient with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is demanding a General Election instead of a ‘People’s Vote’, with many members threatening to leave the party in a bid for the Islington North MP to take a stronger stance on the issue.
Ex-Kent Union President Ruth Wilkinson questioned the Labour Leader’s decision to put forward a vote of no confidence in the executive. She tweeted: “This isn't a fight between left and right, a vote of no confidence will not help, a general election will not fix our Brexit negotiations. I have no confidence in Corbyn, who is only thinking about the success of Labour, to decide our future. People's Vote pls.”
Not everyone is on board with the idea of a second referendum though. 15 British academics, including Senior Lecturer at the school of Politics and International Relations Dr Phillip Cunliffe, have written a joint letter to the Guardian in favor of a “clean sovereign” no deal Brexit.
The letter reads: “British universities are the strongest and most attractive in Europe. With a clean sovereign Brexit, British universities get the best of both worlds. They escape the European commission’s shackles imposed through the withdrawal agreement and, like other successful third-party countries, can participate in EU programs like Horizon 2020 at will.
“Now is the moment to tell the EU that the UK will be a close partner in academic research in the same way as 15 non-EU nation states are at present and that the UK will pay its way, as we did before. This is a win-win situation which does not require the UK to surrender sovereignty or accept destructive conditions.”