Students and leaders discuss the future of Brexit in New York debate

International students have discussed how to counter doubts and uncertainties over Brexit in a debate with civic leaders in the heart of New York City.

Dozens of students, in the Big Apple as part of this month’s huge #DMUglobal trip to the city, took part in a lively discussion on the UK’s future as part of the wider world, in response to early Brexit negotiations.

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The panel was led by Professor Dominic Shellard, Vice-Chancellor of De Montfort University (DMU), who was joined by Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, and Rory Palmer, MEP.

The debate ranged across the reasons for Brexit, the Government’s Brexit negotiations, the possibility – and usefulness– of a second referendum and the power of higher education to foster international movement and collaboration.

Professor Shellard asked a number of questions of the panel before opening the debate to the floor, which included international students from across the world.

Polish Computer Science student Judy Dabek said: “I think that the Polish government is supporting what Britain is doing but the problem is that if Britain makes a success of Brexit it could cause many other countries to do the same and cause big cracks across the EU.”

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Other students mentioned the problems Brexit would cause to European funding support programmes like Erasmus+ and the irony of English being considered a global language with the country voting to break away from the EU.

Among other concerns, Northern Irish student Kalem Todd, who studies Law, said Brexit left it uncertain whether he would be considered an international student if Ireland was to be unified – a distinction which would have financial implications for study.

Sir Peter said Manhattan was the ideal place to discuss the benefits of international movement, as it had been settled and developed by immigrants.

But he admitted his hopes for the future would take time to realise, saying: “The future is so uncertain. I would hope that one day we will be a part of a strengthened, reformed European Union but I doubt it will be in my lifetime.”

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Mr Palmer said: “If we’re going to be serious about addressing these huge challenges we face internationally and nationally, we have to have a serious debate about how we have got here.

“How did we get to a point where the UK voted to leave the EU? I think it happened because those of us who believe in progressive politics became too casual and believed that these liberal views would not be challenged.

“There were many parts of the country – including the East Midlands – which were massively in favour of Brexit and so we have to be prepared to be hardheaded in our analysis of the failings of the last 20 years of globalisation.”

The debate comes the day before DMU academics and students lead a global conference at the United Nations headquarters, discussing with a network of worldwide universities how best to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – targets to address issues like poverty, equality, peace and justice across the globe.

Professor Shellard asked whether the UN could realistically reverse or even halt a problem like climate change.

Sir Peter said: “While the UN cannot mandate that countries change policies, it does make a difference, which is better than the alternative, which is nothing.”

Mr Palmer said: “Those of us who believe in improving these human rights issues – those like you at DMU – simply can’t give up.”

Posted on Monday 7th January 2019

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