If the pressure of the last two years in British politics have affected Annelise Dodds, then she doesn’t show it. She is cheery and friendly as we discuss her views on the Brexit process, its impact on the city, the university, and its students, but Dodds is nevertheless angry about the way that the government is conducting itself.
The MP for Oxford East – elected in 2017 after three years as an MEP – seems to be overflowing with criticisms of the government, and solutions which she hopes her own party might implement in office. When I ask her if she thinks that the country needs a new general election so that a new government could carry out Brexit she is adamant that it does, but that it needs a new government for so many other reasons as well.
“I think that’s why the party’s calling for it as well.” She says, “In terms of Labour’s position on how we can deal with the situation, I’m obviously concerned with where we are now as a country. I’m very worried about the deal that’s being proposed by Theresa May – it would be very bad for us, particularly in Oxford where we need to have certainty about customs arrangements into the future. We don’t have that under her deal, and that’s a big issue for big employers like BMW who have big questions about freedom of migration. We need to have a different approach. Now if we had an election and had a Labour government we’d be in a very different position…”
I ask her if, like her party, she is drifting towards the conclusion that the only alternative to a new general election is a second referendum, and here she seems more hesitant.
“We’d have to work out what Labour’s position would be in a general election, I think we would have a very different approach to negotiating, but it might also be important to see whether people’s views have changed. But if we can’t get that general election and we don’t have a large number of conservative MPs willing to hold one unfortunately”, she pauses and then says, “the only way out of that impasse could be to have another referendum.”
“But I don’t think it would be easy, quite the opposite – it would be very, very difficult. As somebody who campaigned to Remain across a lot of the South East of England, including a lot of areas which voted Leave, I think it would be very, very difficult, but I think it could be the only way to resolve this issue.”
“If it is then it’s much more likely to be accepted by people who voted leave, as well as some people who voted Remain but who are now saying, ok you just need to get on with it.” She’s also angry about how the government has handled Brexit, and says that “we have a government that is fixated on these red lines it set at the beginning of negotiations, and if they chucked those we would be a in a much better position, because they would be looking at it from a point of view of what is best for the country, and not from the point of view of quite a right-wing ideological position.”
Stridently opposed to what she sees as the negative repercussions of Brexit for British students, she seems genuinely concerned about the negative effect leaving the European Union might have on their future prospects.
“I’ve heard many stories about people having job offers withdrawn in the rest of the EU and also of people previously saying they’d take up jobs in Britain and then deciding that they didn’t want to. That’s for a whole range of different reasons. I think partly it’s about lack of clarity around research funding and round future migration rules, which are still very, very unclear.But I think it’s also because people are worried about what kind of reception they’ll get in our country.”
In particular Dodds opposes the government’s current immigration targets, remarking melancholically that “The government has wrongly suggested that you can indicate skills purely on the basis of what salary level is and that there might be a similar cut-off for people coming into our country to work as there is for non-EU migrants.”
As a former academic she seems concerned about how younger researchers might be unable to work in the UK, disrupting the academic research process.
Nevertheless, she also seems hopeful, saying “I think we’re moving towards a more sensible position on this, and I think the Home Secretary is more enlightened on some of it than the Prime Minister, but we’ve not got yet to where we need to be.”
“In terms of more generally, young people and their rights within the whole process, certainly as students, I’ve raised a number of times, including directly with the Prime Minister, that we really haven’t seen any prominence allocated to this within any of the Brexit negotiations. In fact, the first question I asked of the Prime Minister was why research had barely been mentioned at all in her Queen’s speech after the general election, despite being so important.”
Dodds laughs, “There are so many other things I could say, I don’t really know where to start!”
I can tell there are.