“The EU is not only undemocratic, but outright anti-democratic” – this is a phrase I have heard countless times from young Brexiteers who got the result they wanted on June 24th.
Yet despite being part of the 52 per cent who voted for Leave, they have been overshadowed by 75 per cent of their peers who wanted to remain in the EU. This group has gone on numerous pro-Europe marches and criticised the older generations who have “ruined” their future. The additional surge in racist attacks towards immigrants since the outcome has only fueled bitter feelings between young Remainers and Brexiteers.
Half-Belgian Felix Tasker from Oxford – whose sister Lucy voted Remain – feels the Brexit backlash has kept the debate away from the core political issues including the EU as a political entity. “I definitely didn’t reveal my voting preference in front of people I didn’t know too well just because there was a good chance I’d be labelled a racist or an idiot,” the 18-year-old said. “My background didn’t have too much impact. I plan on living in the UK for the foreseeable future so I voted for what I saw was in the best interests of the UK and the rest of the world. I voted leave in the hope that our Government can make the best choices for Britain, unhindered by the EU.”
Young Brexiteers I spoke to wanted to break ties with EU treaties which they see as problematic. Despite the consensus of the-then 28 member states, the Lisbon Treaty was born after the French and Dutch voted against an EU constitution in 2005. When Ireland initially voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, it was forced to run a second referendum to overturn the result. They were equally concerned about the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which charges tariffs on developing nations, leaving them unable to trade their goods equally on the European market.
Conor Meikleham from Belfast, though, had a different motivation. He cast a Leave vote in the hope for a united Ireland. “I appreciate that there is some political dexterity required to argue for Britain to leave the EU so we can have a united Ireland, only to campaign to leave the EU all over again – but that’s exactly what I want to happen,” the 29-year-old said. “I think ending British rule in the north of Ireland is simply more important and is worth indulging a return to EU membership in the medium term for. If leaving the EU makes a second, this time successful, Scottish referendum more likely, that’s a step toward that goal.”
Heads of EU nations have demanded Britain to trigger Article 50 as soon as possible in order to start negotiations, but the political turmoil that followed David Cameron’s resignation has left the UK in the air in terms of a starting date. Although these young Brexiteers believe the divorce should be tasked under a new leader, opinion is split on who should start the Brexit process.
“I think it needs to be triggered after the Conservative Party has elected a new leader and Prime Minister,” said 23-year-old Gregory from Hitchin, who has set his sights on Theresa May. “I am a bit disappointed that Boris didn’t run…However I don’t think another General Election would be wise as it would create more uncertainty by delaying things even further.”
“I think there should be another general election implemented mainly because for all the talk of ‘unelected bureaucrats in Brussels’ running the country, it would be a shame if the referendum resulted in an unelected leader of the UK,” said Felix, for whom no particular candidate stands out.
But Conor is less concerned about when the Brexit process begins. “What I think is much more important is who is on the negotiating team once it [Article 50] is triggered, that it is properly representative of the nations and regions, and that at least the two main parties both have some role in it,” he said.
What is clear is that there are young people who don’t regret their decision for Brexit and won’t be changing their minds any time soon. They’re critical of Farage’s admission that the £350m a week spent on the EU won’t necessarily be reinvested into the NHS, but welcome his resignation on the basis that he’s not an elected MP. “He’d be a rubbish negotiator in any case,” Gregory concludes. “We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work. There will be difficulties and setbacks for sure but we’ve faced worse odds as a nation and won so I am optimistic about the future.”