As Students We Will Suffer The Most and We Must Fight
We need to help shape the way Britain leaves
I am no political hack.
I was not on the streets canvassing before the Referendum, and my engagement in politics has never gone beyond the occasional Facebook post, the only result of which (although not wholly unimportant) has been a smattering of likes from similarly minded friends. However, on Friday morning, not least as a result of my own Belgian-British roots, I woke up feeling despaired, disconnected, and lost within my own country. The figures are stark: 75% of 18–24 year olds voted to remain in the EU, 61% of those over 65 voted out. Scrolling through my newsfeed affirmed these statistics, providing a sole comfort on what was otherwise a grim morning. Whilst we may be feeling distraught and betrayed, we must also recognise a remarkable unity in our ideals. Britain as a nation has voted leave, but as young people we have shown another consensus. As yet there is no plan on how we will exit, it will probably be a long and painful process, and we must ensure that our voice is heard during this time.
Whilst demonising the Remain campaign as ‘Project Fear’, in contrast to a supposed project of ‘hope’, it seems obvious to our generation that Leave carried out the negative campaign based on fear and lies. Most notably was its shameful reliance on xenophobia, demonstrated clearly by Farage’s use of Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives as propaganda. Whilst this referendum has shown there are issues surrounding the integration and perceptions of immigrants, academic studies showing the clear economic and social benefits of migration were largely ignored. Johnson and Gove may have rushed on Friday morning to disassociate themselves from the ‘Little England’ viewpoint, however their willingness to encourage and build on these fears throughout the campaign can be seen at best as a willful and immoral misuse of their positions of public influence.
Financially, the blatantly incorrect figure of £350 million a week sent to the EU remained plastered on the Vote Leave Battle Bus. Unsurprisingly on Friday, once it had served its purpose, Farage was quick to explain that this fictional figure would not be directly siphoned to the NHS. Again the opinions of nearly every established economic analyst were brushed aside by Michael Gove, who asserted the British people ‘have had enough of experts.’ Yesterday as commonly predicted the pound fell drastically (a 30-year-low). The early sounds from the EU do not seem to be as welcoming as Leave had portrayed. Concerned about greater fragmentation and further financial instability EU States want us out quickly and cannot consider giving Britain a favourable exit deal with access to the single market seeming unlikely. Whilst the campaign’s willful use of false-figures has been evident from the beginning, now the falsity of their promises are also becoming apparent.
Finally, arguments surrounding sovereignty concentrated on the disenfranchising aspects of EU membership not once focusing on its enfranchising ability to deal with supra-national issues. Despite a feeling of disconnect between British citizens and the EU it has done masses to help and protect those most vulnerable in society. The Financial Times has shown the dangers of this disconnect, with the regions most economically dependent on the EU also having the highest proportion of leave votes. We must ask whether greater local sovereignty by a Government that has ardently carried out austerity and shown little regard for workers’ rights and opinions (ie. the first all-out NHS strike in history), now facing another recession with a weakened economy, will step in to protect this group of people. I remain highly unconvinced, and fear Leave will soon betray a wide swathe of its voters.
Leave rubbished concerns as ‘Project Fear’ however we have every reason to be fearful. We ought to be worried about the £7bn hole in our university funding, the opportunity to travel and study abroad on Erasmus schemes, for our jobs as large graduate employers look to relocate, and for our friends whose right to live and work with those they care about is now at risk. I can’t see much more negative than using rhetoric to dismiss the real concerns of a generation who will be most substantially affected by Brexit. We have been cheated by a negative campaign of misinformation, where our legitimate concerns have been left unaddressed, and where promises are quickly being revealed as lies.
It is pretty hard in a situation like this to find any reasons for optimism, but we cannot give up on hope yet. We must take hope in the fact that as a generation we have shown an overwhelming unity in our ideals and vision for Britain’s future in the world. As the unaddressed realities of the leave vote become apparent the direction of the next 2-3 years is very much undecided. On Friday in an early-life-crisis I joined a political party and I urge you to do the same. I signed a petition calling for a second referendum. Continued scrutiny and pressure, making those in power aware of our anger and concern, is crucial in affecting how we leave Europe. We have the chance to show our European friends and family that those with the future of this country in their hands believe in the European project, and hope to protect its ideals through the painful process of exit.
The next 2-3 years will be ones of uncertainty the ramifications of which will be felt most acutely by our generation. One thing is clear we can’t afford for our voice to be disregarded again.