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Julian Brazier attacks Labour's student fees promise after losing Canterbury seat

By Sandra Hembery

Former Canterbury MP Sir Julian Brazier has hit out at an admission by Labour that its commitment to write-off historic student debts is only an ambition.

Ahead of the election campaign, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to clear the slate of those saddled with huge loans, as well as scrapping tuition fees.

But Shadow Treasury spokesman John McDonnell said on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday that writing off old debts is not a cast-iron commitment.

Sir Julian Brazier watches the national news. Picture: Chris Davey
Sir Julian Brazier watches the national news. Picture: Chris Davey

“Well, we’ll look at what we can do. It’s a real ambition that we’ve got... What Jeremy said is we recognise young people are coming out of college now with debts of £50,000.

"They cannot even think about buying a house or getting on the property ladder. So we’ve got to tackle that. But the issue is the system’s got to be tackled anyway because it’s falling apart.”

Pressed on whether students’ historic debts would be written off, he replied: “What we said in our manifesto, we’ll scrap tuition fees, we’ll scrap tuition fees. If we can help them deal with the debt we certainly will do.”

Mr Brazier said students had been sold a false prospectus that had swung the vote against him in the election.

“It is just another example of the false prospectus that persuaded people into voting Labour.

Rosie Duffield and Sir Julian Brazier at the election count
Rosie Duffield and Sir Julian Brazier at the election count

"I would not use the word ‘duped’, but an offer was put out there in a message that students responded to.”

“I am concerned about the level of debt that students are accruing but I would not myself scrap loans.”

He said that universities should be required to be much more transparent about their results and quality of teaching.

“Students should be able to know what to expect. If students can see that a university is offering poor teaching and poor prospects, they are not going to be able to charge £9,000.”

Labour’s shock victory in Canterbury has been attributed to the strength of support among students in the town.

Mr McDonnell’s admission was seized on by other Kent MPs, with South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay tweeting: “Truth emerges on the biggest electoral bribe in history. It was hollow all along.”

The issue of student debt was acknowledged by Kent MP and First Secretary of State Damian Green who said it was a “huge issue.”

A recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested students in England graduate with average debts of £50,800, after interest rates were raised on student loans to 6.1%.

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