The overwhelming majority of the young British electorate voted to stay in the EU on the 23rd of June 2016. 73% of 18-to-24-year-olds crossed Remain at the ballot box, constituting a proportion far superior to that of their fellow older voters.
Hence, it does not come as a surprise that young people expressed anger over the way Theresa May intends to conduct the negotiations, leading to a likely hard-Brexit. This is the complete withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, including leaving the EU single market.
In the light of the depressing political developments of the last months, I feel the need to view this with optimism and argue that young people should not be scared by Mrs. May’s talks of a hard Brexit. This is why.
Prior to the EU Referendum, the EU conceded a very good deal to David Cameron, allowing the UK a privileged position in the Union. Yet, the UK left the EU. This may motivate the EU to “punish” the UK for the decision to leave in spite of its privileges, and in order to prevent other countries from doing the same.
As a result of the EU’s willingness to penalise the UK, negotiating for a soft Brexit, namely leaving the EU while preserving the existence of some ties between this and the UK, could decrease Mrs. May’s likelihood to limit the damages. Simply put, declaring to still want what you just refused to have would annoy anyone, including member states of an international institution.
For this very reason, Theresa May’s talks of hard Brexit could actually deliver something closer to a soft Brexit. As a matter of fact, the UK is still one of the most vibrant economies in the EU and the PM’s strategy of showing willingness to completely disconnect from the Union may underline this very fact, allowing more space for EU’s concessions, rather than resentments and punishments.
It could be nonetheless that Theresa May is simply considering a hard Brexit as the best course of action. This is unlikely for many reasons. Firstly, a hard Brexit will be more expensive and economically damaging than a soft Brexit; secondly, it may fragment even more a country already split in half; thirdly, 48% of British people voted to remain in the EU and, among 52% who voted to leave, not everyone is a hard Brexiter, willing to leave the single market. This means that the majority of the electorate is actually made up of either Remainers or soft Brexiters.
This time, talking hard may deliver better results, providing hard Brexiters with the “illusion” of a hard Brexit they need to hear, while at the same time satisfying the willingness of the majority of the electorate and thus pursuing the common good.
Let’s hope the Government has it all planned.