The decision to leave the European Union, regardless of whether you view it as positive or negative, will undoubtedly have significant effects we as young people will have to live with for decades to come. This is why it is often highlighted that under 18s were unable to vote in the referendum was incredibly unfair. Now as the implications of Brexit are starting to sink in, it is important to allow young people the chance to vocalize their opinions and thoughts surrounding the Brexit process to ensure they are allowed to participate in the process that will really shape the country of their future.
I recently spoke with students from Newcastle Sixth Form College between the ages of 16 and 18; those just shy of being able to vote last June. What was striking first of all was, despite many argue 16 to 18 year olds may not be engaged enough to meaningfully participate, every single person I spoke to said had they been given the opportunity to vote, they would have done so.
Regarding the governments’ current handling of the negotiations, the vast majority thought that they were performing poorly. Many stated that they feel as though there are many rumours that aren’t being addressed, adding to the detrimental uncertainty surrounding the future relationship of the UK with Europe. One interesting point made by a student was that they felt there was a lack of pro-Remain politicians arguing that the interests of the 48% still need to be represented, to ensure they get a deal that works for them too.
In terms of what these young people want to see coming from the negotiations, most wanted to see a soft Brexit. They worry that a hard Brexit would impact massively on our relationships with other EU countries and jeopardise our economy, with some worrying that we seem intent on giving up all of the benefits of the EU rather than trying to keep what worked well. What we can learn from this is that young people are not satisfied with the direction in which the government is going with the negotiations. This shows a need for young people to be allowed more opportunities to have their say when it comes to the negotiations.
The main thing these Newcastle students feel the government should focus on in the negotiations is free trade with the EU and ensuring access to the single market. One of the main concerns was that the EU, in retaliation to Brexit, may reject the UK completely and/or increase protection against us, resulting in a loss of trade deals that benefit our economy and citizens.
What needs to be recognised is that young people are not apathetic when it comes to Brexit. On the contrary, they have genuine concerns surrounding the process and the governments approach when it comes to the negotiations. As those who will be affected the most, young people need to be given more of an opportunity to voice their opinions on a national level, and be given the chance to affect and contribute to the policies that will shape their future. It’s time the government started allowing young people the chance to have a say in the dictation of their future.