Oxford’s young population vocally favours EU membership but a minority of undergraduates, such as Sam Slater (right) bucked the trend Oxford’s young population vocally favours EU membership but a minority of undergraduates, such as Sam Slater (right) and Izzy Corbin (left) bucked the trend  

By Alec Fullerton
(Trinity, 2014)

Until the early hours of the EU referendum results, Brexit was a joke amongst the vast majority of students. In pubs you would hear people doing their best Farage impersonations, declaring their belief in a "strong, independent Britain", of course mocking camp leave's rhetoric. At parties and social events, in nightclub smoking areas and lecture halls, it was universally presumed that you were pro-remain.Alec FullertonAlec Fullerton, an undergraduate at Trinity, has asked Brexit voters what the reaction has been for them around the University 

This presumption amongst students was so solidly cemented that people didn't even ask each other their voting preferences. "You're voting remain, right?" was as far as it went. By default, any conversation related to Brexit was launched from a standard pro-EU angle. As a student with the referendum fast approaching, it was wildly apparent how pro-remain this section of the electorate was.

This should be coming as no surprise or revelation to anyone well versed in the post-Brexit media frenzy. There must be hundreds of articles, not to mention the plethora of Facebook statuses and Tweets, focusing on the mass disappointment and frustration of our country's student remainers.

However, what hasn't been examined in any great depth, is what it's like being on the winning side. What it's like being a student who voted leave, and won.

Izzy CorbinPPE undergraduate Izzy Corbin and many other Brexit voters felt that they should avoid the subject with their peers

It became clear very quickly after speaking to several students who voted leave, that many of them were concerned about expressing their views in such a heavily pro-remain environment. Izzy Corbin, a 2nd year PPE student said: "there was an atmosphere where if you said you were going to vote leave, everyone around you would immediately gang up on you and start questioning you about it. It got to the point where I just wanted to avoid all EU conversations because I just couldn't be bothered with the confrontation."

Similarly, Charlotte, a 2nd medical student at Oxford, felt that peer pressure actually played a very significant role in young peoples' voting preferences: "Well, I changed my vote in the last week, which I think says a lot. Leave arguments weren't really spoken about between students, only the remain votes, which meant that you kind of got swayed to believe you were voting wrong."

This evidently wasn't an isolated case, as I discovered whilst interviewing students for this piece. Unbelievably, the first three people I asked, who I'd previously considered to be staunch Brexiteers, confessed that they'd caved at the last minute and voted remain. One even described herself as a "reluctant remainer." Whilst many cases of 'Bregret' - regretful leave voters, have been documented in the media, this last minute conversion of leave voters has received very little coverage.

Although the results showed Oxford’s young population overwhelmingly favours EU membershipDespite a minority of Brexiteer students vocalising their feelings of surprise, joy and pride, immediately post-referendum, many more felt like they had to keep quiet. Edward Harris, (right) a second year medical student agreed: "it has been difficult as the overwhelming student opinion appeared to be to remain. I've felt like my reasoning for voting leave is being shouted down and I feel uncomfortable talking about it for fear of falling out with people."

Harris also worries that his reputation may have been damaged, as he is tarred with the same brush as other leave voters with less valid reasoning. He added: "I don't like the fact that I am being grouped together, by some, with those who voted leave due to the scaremongering attitude of the leave campaign or perhaps with 'racist' motives when I think I've given it considerable thought from many angles and come to a fair conclusion, even if many students disagree. This may have had an undue negative effect on my reputation amongst my peers."

Adam, a Mechanical Engineering student at Bath was keenly aware of this too: "sometimes I felt like I had to keep quiet in social situations. I didn't see a single young person post anything positive about leaving after we left and personally wouldn't have wanted to post anything myself as I think the leave campaign is generally misunderstood by lots of young people as racist." As a result, he felt "incredibly unrepresented."

Others are concerned about a more physical or real consequences for student leave voters post-Brexit, for example, Ben Coker (below), a first year PPEist at Oxford. He said: "Some of the other Brexiteers in Oxford said they were kicked off group chats, shouted at, one guy was apparently kicked at a ball."Ben Coker

Ben was also concerned about the worrying divisions in society, both exposed and intensified by this referendum. He added: "The division between those who go to university and those who don't has definitely been made worse by the referendum. Most students can't accept that some people have concerns about uncontrolled immigration and aren't racist. Some of them seem blind to issues outside the London-Oxbridge bubble. For example, I've heard loads of students who are angry that banks are cutting jobs, potentially threatening their future careers, when they didn't bat an eyelid when fishing communities were destroyed by the EU."

Leading the charge against Oxford's predominantly pro-remain campus was Sam Slater, Returning Officer for Oxford Students for Britain. As a "right-leaning student involved in politics", the second year PPEist said he was all too familiar with being in the minority: "Being involved in Oxford politics you get used to dealing with not only a completely opposing view- that's fine, but a group that sees you as some sort of existential threat to their ability to live and study in Oxford."

As one of the few students who supported the leave campaign, Slater said: "It wasn't until the days right after the referendum when it all started to feel very different." Despite having come up to Oxford from a Lancashire comprehensive, he reflected that he had never noticed any class differences before: "I never felt an aggressive class difference until the referendum and the few days that followed. The sheer contempt shown for uneducated or patriotic or working class people was honestly really disgusting."

Rory FraserRory Fraser (above), managing editor of Versa, an online student newspaper in Oxford, was most struck by the absurdity of the situation. He said: "We were all so aware of the spin, no one wanted to seem to look as though they bought any of it. It was hilarious really. Basically you had 30,000 students pretending that they were above 'Out', but who saw through the scare-mongering of remain. However, they didn't want to be seen as supporting Out, but equally didn't want to seem to have fallen for remain's tactics."

So, perhaps why we have heard so little from those students who voted leave is because they're keeping their heads down, below the parapet, letting their remainer counterparts do the work for them. As Sam Slater puts its: "the more you let the remainers do, the more they're embarrassing themselves. They were showing themselves to be anti-democratic and really resentful to the common man."

Images © Izzy Corbin, Sam Slater, Rory Fraser, Ben Coker, Alec Fullerton


By Kathy Darby-Ret...

Presumably one votes "for" or "against" a motion for concrete reasons. One has thought about the advantages and disadvantages and arrived at conclusion. The reasons why the students mentioned in the article voted leave or remain are missing completely from the report. One would have expected a critical analysis based on facts but it seems to be fashionable not to "activate" the grey matter even at Oxford these days. Sad.


Professor Clark, in recommending Philip Glass's book, refers to him as a child "protege".

Does he means a "child prodigy"?

What on earth has hapapened to my university?

By Michael Heyling...

The final comment above that the Remainers "were showing themselves to be anti-democratic and really resentful to the common man" may well be fair comment on some Remainers. However, it is a rare country nowadays that makes such a huge change on a bare majority vote. Even Brazil's ex-president needed two-thirds of the votes against her. In our referendum, in round terms, 50% Leave on a 70% turnout means that barely more than a third of the total electorate wanted to leave. Also, the Leavers were not dominated by the northern uneducated. The rural wealthy south was just as strong as Leavers. It was the combination of the wealthy south and the poor north that held sway, both camps dominated by older citizens, many of whom won't live long enough to see the full effect of Brexit - despite two-thirds of the electorate not in the Leave camp.

By Peter Edward Smith

If Oxford PPE students can't argue their views convincingly to their peers, and resort to keeping silent rather than arguing their points, then they have truly failed

By David Anderson

It is sad that, across so many issues, this sort of pattern is so prevalent. The elites make their opinions known - but they don't stick to presenting solid arguments for them. On issue after issue (especially anything touching their most cherished cause, the sexual revolution), they insist on creating an atmosphere where people feel they're not even permitted to disagree. To disagree is to be guilty of Thoughtcrime. The only possible way to disagree is to be a bigot, a little Englander, a homophobe, a racist, a Faragiste, a dinosaur, etcetera, etcetera. You're either fully onboard with the program, or you're mentally or socially defective.

The only way to fight against this atmosphere is to laugh at it, and carry on saying the allegedly unsayable (horrors! Imagine harbouring doubts about a complex, problematic political project. Imagine harbouring doubts about whether bodies have anything to do with sexual complementarity! Whatever next?). Socially, it's much easier to cave. But in the long run, it's a disastrous policy - it persuades them that their tactics work, and to keep trying them. What will they be adding to their category of Thoughtcrime next?

By Timothy Ziman

It is sad that Brexiters still love to portray themselves as victims, and continue to repeat arguments taken apparently from the tabloids: "fishing communities were destroyed by the EU." How about over-fishing and increased mechanisation?

By Christopher Wintle

... and now the UK is like a married couple who agree on a divorce, but neither party is in any hurry to pack their bags. As the old saying goes, 'it is very hard to leave those whom we do not love' ...

By Dermot Glynn

What a depressing picture this article presents of the level of thoughtfulness and knowledge to say nothing of courtesy of the majority of today's "remainer" undergraduates.
If any of them would like to understand why they were on the losing side, they should read Robert Tombs' article in the July "New Statesman". Tombs is the Cambridge Professor of French history.

By Brian Rosen

By Kathy Darby-Ret (2 September 2016)
- Yes, that was my reaction too. Well said. I was for Brexit for a while before swinging to Bremain in the final weeks of the campaign, and was happy to give my reasons to anyone who asked. These had nothing whatsoever to do with race, immigration, Faragism, little England, or personal deprivation. My swing was 'only just'. I also strongly agree with Michael Heyling's (2 September 2016) point about the voting process and numbers. For May and Co. to be pressing ahead with Brexit on the basis of those kinds of numbers, and a 4% 'majority' in what was really just a glorified opinion poll, not a legally binding poll, falls short of true democracy. Even the constitution we drafted years ago for our workplace Sports & Social Association required 2/3 of the votes to effect a constitutional change - just like Brazil!

By mike wood

Interesting that open debate in the spirit of traditional Oxford teaching principles has been stifled by social peer pressures, and the perceived need to conform with the apparent vocal majority. Never mind the subject - stay or leave - what really matters is the underlying foundation of an Oxford education, of value throughout one's life, to think for oneself and openly express one's considered and structured thoughts in the interests of exploring solutions, opening minds and making progress, through open debate and discussion Does this mean that those foundations are now less stable than they were? And is the value of an Oxford education less than it was as a consequence?

By Anselm Kuhn

Timothy Ziman (above) might choose to sneer at tabloids and their stories, but the assertion he refers to is absolutely correct. Many UK fishing communities have indeed been destroyed. All fishing in EU waters is subject to the CFP and that includes fish quotas, the scandalous "discard" policy, now hopefully on the way out and permitted fishing techniques (he refers to mechanisation) such as the so-called "wall of death" and bottom board trawling which devastates the ecology of the sea floor. Numerous UK tourists on holiday in Spain have reported seeing under-sized and hence illegal) fish on sale in local fish markets. Much of the catch from "UK waters".is never landed here, but goes straight to France or Spain. Brexit, one assumes, will allow the UK government to implement sustainable fishing policies and maximise economic benefit to the UK. Ziman presumably acknowledges that France and Spain have virtually fished the Mediterranean to exhaustion (and is aware of the blue-fin tuna saga there). Now we have chance to prevent them from laying waste to our own waters.

By Raf Nicholson

If you are too embarrassed to admit publicly to voting Leave, why on earth are you voting that way in the first place?

By Hugh Dolan

Supporting an unpopular policy is difficult; certainly we have similar problems here in the colonies. It seems expressing a view that is a little distant from mainstream is social dynamite. Whether it is tax cuts, immigration, checks on social welfare - in fact any theme that differentiates one from the leftist norm is likely to result in vilification. I fear that gagging will create problems of its own. One would like to think Oxford is set apart from all this...I sometimes enjoy dropping a little bombshell at social gatherings reminiscing about my (very minor) role in the Iraq War. Bombs Away!

By Peter Marx

The young failed to turn out in large enough numbers to prevent Brexit, but then they seem to have turned out en-masse to vote for Corbyn whose lethargy (or quiet approval) had allowed Brexit to happen. Inconsistent?