Labour MP and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has visited UAL to discuss growing concerns amongst students in the wake of June’s Brexit vote.
Addressing a meeting at an Arts SU-organised event, Starmer spoke of how he believes “a lot of people have been grieving since June 23, especially students”.
Starmer, who is leading Labour’s battle to hold the government to account over the terms of Britain’s EU exit, spoke critically of Conservative leadership for not planning a proper response to the consequences of June’s referendum.
This, he said, was only made more complicated as “Theresa May became Prime Minister without challenge because everyone else backed out.” He added: “This meant she was never forced to say what her position would be.”
“I don’t think anybody’s going to be untouched by the result of the referendum. It’s going to define this country for a long time.”
Speaking about the starting terms of Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for negotiating Brexit, he said; “We’re not asking for lock, stock and barrel. But we need to know.”
A letter written by Starmer has urged the government’s Brexit secretary David Davis to have plans for the negotiation stage of Brexit ready for scrutiny in the House of Commons by January 2017.
In the letter, he said: “Labour accept and respect the referendum result and are focused on achieving the best possible deal on what will be the defining issue of this Parliament and for many years to come.”
He continued: “In order for the Government to keep these commitments and to help build a national consensus on Brexit, it is vital that its plans outlining the basic terms of the proposed Brexit deal are published in sufficient time to allow proper scrutiny”.
He also told worried students that Labour would be “fighting hard” to keep freedom of movement alive at Britain’s EU borders.
However, shortly after his cabinet appointment, Starmer went against Labour’s pro-immigration line by stating that he believes the party must be open to limiting EU freedom of movement laws.
The MP for Holborn and St. Pancras also spoke about how Britain still needs to “attract students to our country”.
Starmer was also pushed by students on his involvement in forcing through a Labour leadership election following the referendum, which drew criticism from many party members who believed it was a missed opportunity to attack the Conservatives for failing to connect disillusioned voters.
In response to this, Starmer told students that he doesn’t regret Labour’s leadership contest as “the re-connection of disaffected communities is going to take much more than one autumn but rather years”.
Having been appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU by Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer admits that his current job title is “not the one he would have chosen” as he campaigned against Brexit in the run-up to the vote.
Currently in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, Starmer was critical of the Labour leaders’ campaign for staying in Europe, saying that Corbyn should have gone after failing to secure Britain’s EU status as former Prime Minister David Cameron did.
The issue of housing was also high on the agenda for students, with Starmer mentioning his frustration that local councils have been unable to build affordable accommodation due to a lack of funding from central government.
This topic was raised by students who complained about a continual rise of rental prices in London, which for many studying at UAL are not suitably covered by maintenance loans.
Before becoming an MP, Starmer worked as Director of Public Prosecutions and as an international human rights lawyer.
Featured Image by Chatham House via Flickr CC
Additional reporting: James Cropper