Should Young People Get Behind a Second ‘Departure-terms’ EU Referendum?

If we tackled this feeling of lack of opportunities and challenged the hysterical media coverage of foreigners and the EU it seems to me Britain’s outlook could still change.


Three-quarters of 18 to 24 year olds voted to remain in the EU(YOUGOV). 72% of MPS campaigned for a Remain vote, including 96% of Labour’s 228 MPs.  As left-wing young people should we watch Brexit unfurl with its barriers to education, trade, co-operation that we did not want, or should we support those who argue there is still an alternative? On the contrary, would this be insupportably divisive and anti-democratic, antithetical to the Fabians’ foundations of respecting votes?

 ‘The final decision’ amendment to the EU withdrawal bill that defeated the government  in December 2017 guaranteed parliament a meaningful vote on accepting the Brexit agreement’s final terms (backed by the entire opposition and 11 Tory rebels). Lord Andrew Adonis makes a compelling argument that this right to decide once all facts are known should extend to the entire population through offering a second EU referendum.  Adonis quotes, of all people, Jacob Rees-Mogg circa 2011 when he was advocating a Brexit referendum in the Commons. Fellow MPs contended that a referendum wouldn’t be democratic as people wouldn’t know what they were voting for. Mogg proposed ‘two referendums’: one on Britain completely renegotiating its EU membership (i.e. to leave) and then ‘a second referendum’ on accepting the new membership terms.  Faced with these revelations this month Rees-Mogg riposted that in June 2016 the people ‘clearly knew what they voted for’. But did they? Resolving that question is the keystone underpinning whether we should have another referendum. 

Exaggeration proliferated both camps. George Osborne’s forecast ‘emergency budget’ never materialised. However the Leave campaign- as bringers of change- could make boundless promises: lower immigration, a stronger economy, British sovereignty, a mythical return to Britain’s good old days.

Key reasons behind the Leave vote was an argument for a stronger economy and greater sovereignty: ‘taking back control’. Boris Johnson’s erroneous claim that Britain would be £350 million better off a week paired with his assertion that he would favour remaining in the single market presented Brexit as a no-brainer. Yet the support of The Financial Times, The Economist and nearly all leading business, trade, and scientific voices for Remain indicates that the economic argument was phoney. Appeals to sovereignty was a greater pull; seen through the passionate ‘Take back control’ slogan, the fervent patriotism, and the characteristic ‘blame it on Brussels’ commentary. Yet the portrayal of the EU seizing power is disingenuous: since 1999 the UK has been in the majority on 95% of legislation votes at the council of the European Union. What if, when economic losses start to bite and we realise that we were rather fond of the ‘meddling red tape’ that focused on trifles like regulating workers’ rights, what if we changed our minds? If the reality of Brexit went against the majority’s inclination would we, lemming-like, still severe ties due to Farage and Johnson’s misrepresentation?

The determining factor behind the referendum was opposition to the EU’s freedom of movement policy. Since 2011 immigration has consistently topped Briton’s concerns and net migration levels peaked at 330,000(ONS) in 2015.  Many voters, especially in Labour heartlands, felt disenfranchised by globalisation and mass immigration. They felt anxious about community infrastructure and job competition. However, the right-wing Tabloid media and some Brexiteers amplified and distorted these fears. ‘Vote Leave’ publicity peddled lies like “Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU.” Fleet Street newspapers featured anti-immigration front covers 277 times in 2017 (headlines like ‘Send in Army to halt migrant invasion’). Hate-stirring sells: following the furore from Katie Hopkins calling migrants ‘cockroaches’ in The Sun she joined the Daily Mail. Young people generally perceive immigration positively.  64% of young people voted compared to 90% of over-65s who overwhelmingly view immigration as hostile and voted leave(YOUGOV). Youths have a democratic duty to express the positive counter-narrative regarding immigration.

Adonis is embarking on a tour this January to talk to 100 Leave strongholds. Many say the ship has sailed, and perhaps it has and we must focus on salvaging the best Brexit possible. But perhaps it hasn’t. The biggest divide in voting was levels of education: 68% with a university degree voted remain whilst 70% of people without one GCSE voted to leave(YOUGOV). The education divide demonstrates that those who feel ‘left behind’ voted for Brexit, whereas the educated, the young perceive a Europe full of opportunity. If we tackled this feeling of lack of opportunities and challenged the hysterical media coverage of foreigners and the EU it seems to me Britain’s outlook could still change.


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