On Thursday 23rd June last year, the UK did the unthinkable. We came together to send shockwaves roaring through the political establishment, to tear up the progressive rulebook and to send a clear message to those in power that we did not care for the way in which they governed us. Through a simple Leave vote, we collectively re-established ourselves as a country with the want and will to ‘take back control’, as was so elegantly put by the Three Brexiteers.
Collectively we spoke, but separately we thought. There was an overwhelming precedent in the young and circa-young population to vote and campaign for Remain. It is the case even now that the majority of young people think of the vote to leave as a compunctious one.
As a 17 year-old, I’ve seen first-hand this implicit disapproval of the result of last year’s referendum. My generation had many reasons for wanting to remain within the European Union. There were many, well-entrenched values that saw Europhilic youth draw the battle lines between themselves and the Leave campaign. Many a pleasant debate I had, if you take the argumenta ad hominem out of the equation.
Above all, the focus among many of my fellow students was the most infamous of the single market’s four freedoms. Freedom of movement took centre stage in a lot of the minds, of the young and everyone else alike. I witnessed the denigration of the mindsets of those who wanted an end to the current system. But why? Above all the concern was for our image as a friendly, welcoming United Kingdom and the worry that we would instead embrace the curse of xenophobia. This combined with the uneasiness of jeopardising the future of the Erasmus+ programme, which undoubtedly plays a useful part in allowing academics to travel and achieve their goals with as much ease as possible.
This was also one of the main reasons why I chose to split with my generation. I saw enforced freedom of movement to and from substantially economically different countries to be too disproportionate and too disadvantageous. I was of the opinion that we should be able to better control who is let into our country. I saw the link to xenophobia to be far-fetched and unnecessary. As for Erasmus+, the partnership with Israel made it clear that this wasn’t an opportunity uniquely available to EU members.
What also troubled my generation deeply was their perception of the EU with regard to their role in granting research funding. Due to generational attitudes, prioritisation of issues such as the sciences and the environment is not uncommon for young people. The role of the EU through the Horizon 2020 programme for the former is seen as vital. It is a project focused on science and innovation that aims to reduce red tape and wasted time, and so does benefit the innovative research sector in the UK. The championing of common standards when it comes to air quality, river standards and beach excellence combined with the advanced part that they were seen to play in the Paris Agreement have consolidated kind recollections the bloc firmly in the minds of the young.
From my perspective, I saw that we give so much to the EU. We’re a massive net contributor, with a varying rebate which in itself was only introduced as recently as Margaret Thatcher. In my eyes, and in the eyes of many others including in the Environmentalists For Brexit group, it would be easier to protect our environment if we left – we can do just that without any interference from Brussels. There are over 1,100 EU environmental laws – I see no reason why we can’t transpose all useful regulations into UK law and adhere to nationally set, sensible standards after Brexit.
In an ever-changing world, it was ostensible to me that security was another pillar in the temple of the young Remain tendency. A world within the EU is all that has ever existed for my generation – it was somewhat understandable for them to harbour feelings of distaste towards what was for them uncharted territory, a splitting of an organisation that provided a secure future. On numerous occasions I have been informed of the EU’s capacity and history of ending conflict to a historically troubled continent. Conflicts involving Croatia and Bosnia are probably the most famous examples of this, and more recently the potential for the Spain-UK dispute over Gibraltar to develop further as a result of the EU leaving the bloc. This ongoing anti-conflictual harmony was a big factor in the minds of my generation.
However I believe that security cooperation is in our best interests. We do not need an EU army as we have NATO and the UN, the former of which in itself played a big role in Bosnia. We have world-class intelligence services who cooperate with the EU and the US. So this was no danger. I realised that there was a world outside of the EU, full of friendly nations. Political unity is not necessary.
Of course, another prominent ideal of young Remainers was the EU’s ability to take on big corporations. In the past few years, the EU has taken widely recognised action to make these businesses work more for consumers, with the well-known abolition of data-roaming charges. It would of course be expected that this particular move would be popular amongst the technologically savvy youth of today, but it was interpreted as a victory for consumers orchestrated by the EU. This victory and successes like it showed that the supranational EU could work for every consumer.
As the fifth largest economy in the world, though, we are in an unbelievably strong position. We hold the reigns of power. We can rejoin the WTO and increase our influence. The EU does win victories for consumers, but there is no reason why we cannot do the same after Brexit.
As well as working for the consumer, there was always much focus on worker’s rights in my debates. The impression was that the EU was the only thing standing between national governments and sovereign tyranny. There was fear of return to a Victorian-esque deprivation of fundamental rights should the EU be taken out of the equation. There was the fear that workers would suffer under at least one year of a hapless and greed-induced Conservative government after the article 50 process had been completed, with no common market regulations or sway on trade deals to safeguard consumers and workers alike.
This is, for me, a null and void argument. Paid holidays were introduced in the UK long before the EU came about. The EU has played a role in the fight for equal rights, but as a moral and progressive country the UK has also been willing to adapt and accept. The UK has also outdone EU law in many cases, including that of paid maternity leave – the UK allows 38 weeks more than the EU standard minimum of 14 weeks. The majority of both the governing party and combined opposition, as well as the trade unions, would oppose any sort of stripping of workers’ rights. As a first world, advanced country there is no way that this would occur.
These reasons, amongst others, were enough to convince the vast majority of my fellow young people to back Remain. In my view, project fear worked a charm on the young vote.
But it is to me refreshing that some of us saw the light. I backed Leave because I believed in Britain.
I was open to change, open to opportunity, disillusioned with project fear. Following the vote, I do believe the good times are very much ahead of us.