Members of the largest union of further and higher education staff have overwhelmingly backed a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

The University and College Union (UCU) – which has more than 100,000 members – backed calls for the public to be given a say on the agreement negotiated by the government.

The Independent launched a Final Say campaign demanding the electorate is given a vote before the UK leaves the EU in 2019. So far more than 860,000 people have signed the petition.

Almost nine in 10 (89 per cent) members of the UCU supported calls for a vote on the final deal, which the union said was a clear demonstration of the levels of support among those who work in colleges and universities for another vote.

UCU said Brexit would have a major impact on further and higher education with more than 50,000 EU nationals in the academic workforce alone.

Paul Cottrell, UCU head of democratic services, said: “UCU members have voted overwhelmingly to support a referendum on whatever Brexit deal the government finally agrees.

“There are strong views on all sides and I want to thank UCU members for conducting this debate in an excellent spirit, carefully listening to each other’s views and addressing the arguments.

“The vote unquestionably reflects widespread concern within further and higher education about the impact of Brexit on education, the many thousands of EU staff who work in the sector and its impact on society as a whole.

“When trade unions negotiate a deal with employers they take whatever is agreed back to the membership to have the final say. We believe the government must do the same when it comes to the country’s biggest decision for a generation.”

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Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, warned earlier in the summer that vital research and collaboration projects at universities are at risk of collapsing if the UK exits the EU without a deal.

She said the fall-out from Brexit is the “biggest challenge facing higher education”, adding that a no deal could lead to significantly less access to research funding, a rise in academics leaving UK universities, and EU students being left “in the lurch”.

The consultation of members, which began on 3 September and closed yesterday, was run to determine the union’s position on a second referendum on the final Brexit deal.

In August, the National Union of Students (NUS) – which represents 4.3 million students across the country – backed The Independent’s call for a referendum on the Brexit deal.

Around 10,000 young people will take to the streets on Saturday to lead a major demonstration in support of a fresh referendum on Brexit.

Students, college pupils and young activists from as far afield as northern Scotland are due to head up the People’s Vote March for the Future, organised in conjunction with The Independent.

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