Millions of unregistered young voters could cost the pro-EU campaign victory in next month’s referendum, Ed Miliband will warn today in a wake-up call to Remain supporters.
The former Labour leader will warn that despite enjoying the lead in most polls, a pro-EU vote is in doubt because millions of young people are missing from the electoral roll
He will say that 3.5 million of 18 to 34-year-olds are not registered to vote, with the deadline for the electoral roll closing within the next few days.
Figures show there are six million people aged 18 to 24 eligible to vote but 1.5 million are not registered. Eight million 25 to 34-year-olds are eligible, but two million have yet to register.
Remain campaigners have also revealed concerns about the impact of the date of the referendum on turnout among young people.
Large numbers of university students who are registered at their term-time addresses are expected to have returned home by 23 June, meaning they may not have the right to vote at their local polling station.
In a speech in London, Mr Miliband will claim the Leave campaign’s hopes rest on low registration and low turnout, particularly among young people. He is expected to say: “Let’s be clear about the danger. A decision not to vote is a decision to let someone else decide your future.
“Young people can decide this referendum. If they don’t use their vote, the danger is this referendum will be lost.
“Young people are the progressive, optimistic generation. But their voice must be heard in this referendum if Remain is to win – and they are to give themselves a better chance of a better future.”
Issuing a warning that “should ring in the ears of every child, student and parent”, Mr Miliband will claim the uncertainty of a vote for Brexit is “the road to recession”. He will say: “I urge young people not to put their future in the hands of people who pose as progressive but would seek to turn the clock back, who claim to support working people but would get rid of their rights at work, who pretend to be optimists but who peddle division,” .
“Young people, this great generation of optimists, are seeing their futures being gambled with – their future jobs, their opportunities to travel and study, their living costs in later life. When the Leave campaign is asked about the future – future jobs, future opportunities, future growth – they have one answer: they just don’t know.”
Mr Miliband’s speech comes as the University of Edinburgh made a direct appeal to its students and alumni, setting out the case for remaining in the EU and urging them to take part in the debate.
While not explicitly urging voters which way to cast their ballots, a letter signed by Sir Timothy O’Shea, the university principal, makes clear that benefits such as the Erasmus student exchange programme and EU research funding are only “guaranteed” if the UK remains a member. Polls currently suggest less than a third of 18-34 year olds support Britain leaving the EU. And an Optimum poll in April found just 52 per cent of voters in that age group were certain to cast their ballot.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of Electoral Reform Society, has warned of a “deeply concerning generation gap” , saying young people were more interested in the personalities taking part in campaigns rather than the issues.
A survey by pollster YouGov this week found almost half of 18-24 year-olds would characterise the EU referendum campaign as “a group of old men shouting at each other”. And figures show less than half of that age group voted in last year’s general election.
In an echo of the “grab a granny” appeal by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the eve of 2014’s Scottish independence referendum, Mr Miliband will ask young people to convince their families to back continued membership of the EU.
“We should all sit up and take notice that young people are telling us that the best way to get the change they want is by staying in Europe,” he is expected to say. “The optimistic choice in this referendum is for Remain, not Leave.
“Our case is this: Remain is the best way, the only way we expand the opportunities for young people and the tackle the overwhelming challenges their generation faces.
“My big ask today to young people today is for you to talk to older people. Talk to your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles and your neighbours. Tell them to think about their vote. Think about your future.”
North-east Conservative MSP Ross Thomson, who is backing Brexit, said he believed there was support for leaving the EU among all ages.
He said: “We’ve had a really young team of volunteers come forward, because they feel really passionate about this referendum. It’s not an isolationist perspective to vote leave. I’ve come across a lot of young people who are enthusiastic about Britain coming out of the EU because we wouldn’t only be focused on Europe, we’d be opening up our eyes to the rest of the world, and opening up new opportunities with the rest of the world.”
However, Mr Thomson conceded that some people have been uninspired the tone of some of the debate over the EU.
“I’ve been critical of both sides, because I felt the campaign was becoming a bad parody of the independence referendum, which was great in terms of engagement with young people,” he said.
“Because the tone of the debate hasn’t risen to the level we would have expected, I would agree that it has turned some people off.”
Meanwhile. David Cameron last night warned that the Leave campaign was being offensive to Muslims by painting Turkish people as “criminals and terrorists”.
The Prime Minister said the tactics of the Leave side, led by senior Tory colleagues Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, were “appalling”.
“I do find it concerning the way that the Leave campaign are talking about Turkish people in this referendum. Some of the material they are putting out, painting Turkish people as criminals or terrorists, is frankly appalling.”