Several months after the EU referendum, the reason we still can’t agree an answer to the question “What would be the best relationship for Britain to have with the EU?” is because we cannot agree on what our priorities should be. For many, the priority is reducing immigration. It is this task that many politicians, including our new Prime Minister, appear to have taken as their new guiding light since the referendum. “This vote was all about immigration”, we are told.
However, when we analysed the drivers behind young people’s attitudes and behaviours in the EU referendum, we found that those aged under 35 were unswayed by the rhetoric of the “Leave” campaign because the appeal to tighter control of immigration and a “return” to national sovereignty did not speak to the values and identities of younger people.
This youngest generation of adults – born approximately 1980-2000 and so currently aged around 16-35 – have a more globalist outlook than their elders. They’re more likely to care about poverty, environmentalism and inequality. Evidence from the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute suggests that these are cohort not life cycle differences – in other words, it is unlikely that these attitudes will shift drastically as “Generation Y” ages.
However, political participation among this age group has been declining over time, and it’s worse among marginalised groups such as those from low-income, low-education or black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This lack of broad participation is mirrored in the representation of political voices in the media. CoVi’s analysis of over 4,000 online headlines covering the EU referendum in the three months prior to the vote found that, of over 300 names mentioned, the average age was 58, 79% were male, and 93% were white.
Everyone should have an understanding of, and a say in, the future of the UK now that we have voted to leave the EU. That’s why CoVi are launching our “Brexit Watch” project with a bureau of young people to scrutinise the Brexit process and provide information about the issues that matter. We are not interested in rerunning the referendum or the arguments about our membership of the EU. Instead, we are seeking to bring together everyone who has an interest in what happens in the process of Brexit and beyond, regardless of how they voted in June 2016 or whether they voted at all.
By scrutinising each development, we’ll provide information about how the Brexit process may affect six priority areas, in a way that will be useful for people of all ages. In turn, we will bring together people from a whole range of backgrounds in order to influence the decisions that affect all of our futures. Our bureau will work to combat the hazy picture of the UK’s future as well as the false binary choice of “hard” and “soft” Brexit with which we are presented as though all our futures are dependent solely on whether or not we retain our membership of the single market.
We are told regularly that “the people have spoken”. Indeed they have, but let’s not use the past tense. The people may have spoken but they should also continue to speak. Democracy should not mean occasionally making a vote from a discrete list of options. It should mean a continuous conversation among all of us about what our priorities are, and what we want the country to look like.
If you share this vision, regardless of how or whether you voted in the EU referendum and what your involvement in politics has been to date, we want to work with you. To sign up yourself or nominate a friend for our bureau fill out this form. For more general information, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.