“Universities and students cannot be sacrificed to a disastrous Brexit designed to appease hard-line Tory backbenchers”, Shadow Education Secretary and Ashton-under-Lyne MP Angela Rayner told The Mancunion.
The Shadow Education Secretary said that the three million EU nationals living in the UK had “been treated as bargaining chips”, alluding to the government’s decision to not unilaterally guarantee their rights until the reciprocal rights of British expats overseas have been guaranteed.
Speaking to The Mancunion, Angela Rayner suggested that “Labour’s [Brexit] plans will provide maximum certainty to students and university staff.”
Explaining her view, she said: “Since July 2016, Labour has urged the Government to guarantee the rights of the three million EU nationals in the UK unilaterally, to provide people who have made their lives here with the certainty they need and deserve. Instead, over a year on from the referendum, they are still unsure of what lies ahead for them.”
“Many of them are the researchers, academics and graduates of UK universities who have enriched our higher education sector and helped to make it the world leader that it is. Instead, they have been treated as bargaining chips and 100 EU nationals faced when they received receiving erroneous letters from the Home Office threatening deportation.”
“Our universities cannot lose out on expertise because of uncertainty”, Rayner argued, emphasising the “need to assure the EU citizens who come to study and work in our universities that they are welcome and valued and will continue to be.”
Outlining Labour’s Brexit strategy, the Ashton-under-Lyne MP suggested that Labour’s “proposals for a transitional deal stand in sharp contrast to the Government’s plans, which would see us crashing out of the single market and customs union in March 2017, leaving universities to adapt to two new regimes in quick succession.”
The comments come after Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer MP, made a significant policy announcement, writing in The Observer that “Labour would seek a transitional deal that maintains the same basic terms that we currently enjoy with the EU.”
Explaining why this would be beneficial for UK universities and students, the Shadow Education Secretary said: “This would mean that our universities only have to adapt to one new regime and have longer time to do it. Universities plan on a multi-year basis, as do students. A student beginning university this year needs to know if they will have the right, for example, to carry out a year abroad in an EU27 country. They need the time to look forward and make plans with certainty.”
Jawad Khan, second year Politics, Philosophy, and Economics student at The University of Manchester, and Labour party member said: “The Labour Party accepts the result of the referendum but rejects the idea that we have to sacrifice living standards, good relations with Europe or the future of those currently in education because of this”.
The Labour Party activist who was a council candidate in 2016 for Gomersal and Liversedge described the current government’s handling of Brexit as “disastrous”, suggesting that “a Labour government will immediately guarantee the rights of EU nationals residing in Britain, which includes students at the University of Manchester.”
He said: “Labour’s last manifesto promised to continue working with our friends and partners in Europe by continuing our role in schemes such as Erasmus and Horizon 2020 as well as agencies such as Euratom and Europol”, suggesting that “only a Labour Government can provide a Brexit deal with is cooperative rather than combative.”
Angela Rayner was also clear that “Labour respects the result of the referendum.”
However, she said Labour “reject the view of many hard line Tories of a Brexit at any cost”, adding that “the majority voted to get out: no one voted to lose out and our universities need reassurance that they will be supported to continue to lead in education, research and innovation.”
She argued that “we should be working to get a Brexit deal that puts jobs and the economy first, and our research and development economy is key to this.”
“The hard Brexit that this Government is pursuing cannot be allowed to undercut our universities and thwart the opportunities for students to study and work in the EU”, argued Rayner, adding that “Labour respects the result of the referendum but reject the view of many hard line Tories of a Brexit at any cost.”