Brexit highlighted the divisions and differences in opinion across the country: between the nations that make up the UK, between regions within these nations, between the young and the old, and to some degree between rich and poor.
As a result of the vote, many young people are worried about their future opportunities. For instance, UK higher education institutions receive almost £1 billion in research funding from the EU. There are also exchange schemes such as Erasmus that provide opportunities for British students to experience and learn about other cultures, giving them the chance to learn skills that are valuable in an increasingly globalised world. Additionally, EU environmental regulations, which have had a largely positive effect for the UK, are at risk of being weakened following Brexit, the consequences of which will be felt most heavily by those who are young now or yet to be born.
Having said this, it is important to remember that young people are not a monolithic entity. The areas they live in and their parents’ income can be a major influence on their chances of finding success, and as a result they face different problems. Thus in order to protect the interests of young people through Brexit, it is important to also note their concerns by region. This could be done effectively by giving communities the opportunity to provide their input into the Brexit process.
In order for Brexit negotiations to take these concerns into account, regional citizens’ forums for Brexit could be set up. These would allow people across the country to understand the issues facing other citizens, as well provide transparent dialogue and accountability over Brexit between people and their state. An institution designed specifically to hear what different types of people are thinking would be a boon for young people, as well as a vehicle towards a more direct and engaging democracy.
These forums would give communities a personal and direct outlet for their concerns, allowing them not necessarily to decide, but to help government identify and prioritise its policy to solve the most important issues to each community and realise where problems are widespread. The idea of a more direct democracy involving citizens is already being tried. One example is the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council, which aims to involve citizen participation in economics. The programme itself was developed by looking at similar attempts in engaging citizens in democracy across the world.
Since 1974, the participation among those aged 18-24 in General Elections has declined significantly in comparison to other groups. Serious effort is required to reinvigorate the interests of young people in politics, now more than ever. The outcomes of Brexit will affect the future of Britain for decades to come. If the government is serious about giving people control over their lives again, then beginning by directly soliciting the opinion of young people on Brexit would be a brave step forward.