The contrasts surrounding Brexit are stark and revealing. The politicians calling for it tended to be wealthy, older and well educated, the people who voted for it tended to be less wealthy, a mix of ages and less well-educated. Cities, which experience the majority of EU migration and are most affected by the free movement of goods, services and labour, voted overwhelmingly to remain, whilst rural areas, who have less direct experience of EU migration, were more strongly pro-leave. Older generations who have already had a vote on the question of Europe and who statistically speaking will experience less of the future broke for leave, whilst the young, who were voting on this issue for the first time and will live with the result for considerably longer, overwhelmingly backed remain.
That the nation is divided is clear, the nature and consequences of those divisions, is not. The challenge facing the Government and the country at large is to turn what was essentially a negative vote against the status quo into something which can deliver a more positive future for the UK. Politicians played on years of frustration, entrenched inequality, xenophobic messaging and general low confidence since the 2008 economic crash, to portray a UK being held back by the EU; a UK unable to rise to its historical highs due to a restrictive and one-way relationship with the bureaucracy which is the EU. This was a referendum on people’s lives in the UK, on whether they were happy with their lot and optimistic about the future. And the answer was a resounding no.
What was not clear, as is becoming increasingly apparent during the exit process, was how Brexit would actually solve some of these challenges and deliver a better future for the UK. It is unclear how years of uncertainty and negotiation, and a parliament and civil service ensnared with complex international law and regulation, will drive economic growth and prosperity.
Based on my own experiences, impressions and conversations with other “millennials”, it is clear to me that young people will continue to argue for a UK which is economically thriving, culturally rich and internationally engaged. If this cannot be delivered the divisions in our society will continue to grow, and Brexit will have been the start point rather than the result, of a truly divided UK. Government could respond to this challenge and demonstrate its commitment to open and transparent government by making the most of the digital technology now available to us to properly engage with citizens as Brexit is negotiated and delivered. An online platform encouraging submissions and debates on key Brexit topics would provide a valuable source of ideas and data to Government, whilst reassuring citizens that their involvement in this key political process did not end on 23 June.