Young People are Worried About Brexit

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine came to visit New Orleans from the UK. She grew up in Cornwall, a peninsula at the very southwest tip of England, but has been living in London for the past eleven years. I met her while I was studying abroad in London at Goldsmiths College, and we’ve stayed in touch pretty well over the last few years. While politics is not necessarily a topic you’d think to bring up with a friend visiting internationally that you haven’t seen in a while, it was almost inevitable that our conversation lead us to current events. I like to think of myself as fairly well informed, and I try to follow the headlines of Brexit news as it is reported in the US. But the conversation I had with my friend about how young people are worried about Brexit opened my eyes to an element of this situation I hadn’t really been aware of.

The conversation began when I asked if she had thought about buying a house or apartment- she has lived in London for a good amount of time and has rented quite a few apartments over the years. When I asked her this question, however, she laughed. To buy a house in central London would cost a fortune, she said, and there is no way she would be able to do this on her current salary. She then continued on to say that the effects of Brexit will make this situation worse, and that the majority of young people actually voted against Brexit, which makes her feel upset and demoralized. To her, the country was now following through on a decision that the majority of the younger population didn’t want- and by the time it actually comes into effect, those are exactly the people who will have to deal with the repercussions of this decision. Today’s generation of young people, she explained, are worried about Brexit.

How Young People Feel About Brexit: A Deeper Dive

I walked away from this conversation feeling silly for not having thought about this before, but also wanting to learn more about this political dynamic. In doing further research, I discovered that only 64% of people aged 18-24 voted in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Of this, 70% voted to remain in the EU.  Conversely, 60% of voters aged sixty five and older voted to leave.  According to recent polls, if there were another vote today, 74% of those who were too young to vote in 2016 would vote to remain. The data clearly shows that the younger generation is not supportive of leaving the EU.

Brexit Protest

There are many reasons for younger generations, including the infamous “millenials,” to be worried about the current and future state of affairs brought on by the Brexit referendum. Research shows that young people will lose up to £108,000 in earnings in 30 years, along with other destructive economic impacts, if any type of Brexit takes place. Issues that have defined the political landscape in England in the last 10 years, such as financial stability, the ability to buy a house, and the generational wealth gap, all have the potential to become increasingly worse with a Brexit deal. In the current state, thing like studying abroad or working in another European country are fairly easy to do. Without being part of the European Union, these types of opportunities that allow people to take advantage of prosperity and opportunity across the European continent will become increasingly complicated and potentially nonexistent. Multiple companies have already begun to look to move their operations elsewhere and away from the UK in light of the Brexit referendum.  The younger generations that will be looking for jobs, trying to raise families, and hopefully paying mortgages (if they can afford to buy) are worried that losing the ability to take advantage of European Union relationships and partnerships seriously hinders their ability to sustain and grow economically.

What Does This Mean?

There are many implications of the current situation as it relates to young people being worried about Brexit. First, this issue will surely be a defining feature in future elections in Britain. A graduate student in the UK explained, “If Brexit happens there will be so much hatred against those two main parties for allowing this to happen because they are the ones that brought us here that people will be looking for anything to find a way out.” This could majorly impact the security of the two ruling parties, and could open the door for more political unrest in the UK. With Theresa May formally resigning last week, the political situation has once again been thrown into chaos.

Second, I hope that the repercussions and current situation will bring more young people out to vote in future elections. 64% is not enough of a representation of a pivotal age group in such an important election. If young people want to have a say in their government, no matter what country they live in, they need to show up when given the opportunity. And, they should push for more opportunities to speak up if they feel they need it. There has been a recent push for additional Brexit votes and pressure put on the governing body for an additional referendum, but it remains unclear whether or not this will actually come into effect. If young people are worried about Brexit, they should do whatever they can to come together and be heard.

Third, I think this situation brings to light larger issues occurring across the globe relating to representation and elections. In places like Syria and Russia, elections are held, but they are not trustworthy or representative of the population. But even in places like the UK, this situation proves that there are still issues with representation and elections that end in powerful people making important decisions that are at odds with popular opinion, but that will have a major impact on the future. That impact is magnified for younger generations who will feel the brunt of the consequences. With this in mind, and with the United States election of 2020 looming, it is imperative that we as a society continue not just to fight for democracy, but also work to make sure that as many voices as possible are being heard.