Personal Response to Open Letter on Brexit

On May 12th, Medium published an open letter to parliament, penned by the aptly-named FFS group, signed by a delegation of Students’ Union representatives, including our own second-term President, Bruce Wight. In it, they, the undersigned, claiming to represent “just under one million students”, call on our elected leaders to deliver a referendum on the final Brexit deal, and expressing an opinion on the alleged benefits of EU membership.

I’d like to offer my own call: for Bruce Wight to withdraw his signature from this letter.

Whatever side you take on Brexit, students ought to be ashamed to have their “interests” represented by this document: the letter is an absolute mess. Weird capitalizations abound, and the sentence structure is awkward. One could perhaps let this slide were the letter to contain points of real substance and nuance; sadly, the seven short, ambiguous paragraphs contain little more than clichés and mistruths.

Let me provide just one example: it claims those it represents “are passionate about the environment”, and that it cares about the ability of people to decide on issues that affect their future, yet laments the stalling of a mostly secret agreement, the TTIP, that reverses environmental protections, allows companies to sue our government for taking actions that harm profits, and exposes the NHS to legally irreversible privatization.

This is just one of several absurd contradictions and unsubstantiated opinions about the impact of Brexit and the benefits of EU membership. Equally absurd is the claim to have “accepted” the Brexit result, whilst simultaneously invoking the “People’s Vote” campaign and signing a letter penned by the FFS, both of whom openly admit they want to “stop Brexit” and call for a second referendum with Remain as an option.

Yet, by far the most egregious claim is that those who have added their signatures to this document in some way represent their students on this issue. To my knowledge, there has been no public consultation in Aberystwyth on adding the name of our Students’ Union to this letter. Even if the AberSU Constitution does allow for political statements on our behalf, I do not believe that being “firmly of the belief” of something, as stated in the letter, is an adequate excuse for making official partisan statements based on the opinions of the President – especially given that the letter is an embarrassment that will not be taken seriously by any respectable MP who chances to read it.

I personally don’t believe the SU should be exercising its power to take sides on this issue, especially given the absence of democratic consent for it in Council or elsewhere. There are perhaps more students than one might realise who support Brexit in Aberystwyth, few of whom will be particularly delighted that official AberSU policy is to endorse “Stop Brexit” groups. Whilst defending our alleged right to get pissed VISA-free in the Schengen area is a noble cause, I remain unconvinced that opposing Brexit is actually in the interests of students on campus, and would welcome a more open discussion between AberSU and the students they represent, especially those who disagree with the now-official line.

The Student Charter says we can expect AberSU to “operate democratically” and “provide impartial representation”. I don’t think our Union should take a political position on Brexit; but at the very least, Bruce should remove his signature from this letter. It isn’t a professional or substantive document, and a consultation and vote between the SU and the students has not taken place, as I believe it should have.