Young Europeans react to Brexit

Following his analysis of the fallout from Brexit, Feilidh O’Dwyer-Strang discusses implications for those arguably most affected by the EU-UK divorce: Youth

In the aftermath of the United Kingdom’s (UK) Brexit referendum result, the stark differences in voting behaviour between old and young were quickly apparent. Results showed that for voters aged between 18 and 24, 81% supported the UK remaining part of the European Union (EU). For pensioners (aged 65 and over) — that number was just 41%.

I’ve spent the last two years studying on an international journalism and globalisation master’s programme, based in the EU. In the degree, students from around the world come to live and study in several European states over a two-year period. Of the several hundred young Europeans I’ve gotten to know during this period, not a single solitary soul is pro-Brexit. The only positive sentiment I’ve heard since the referendum is from one Danish friend who said: “With the pound so low, buying PlayStation games from the UK is much cheaper.” That is not to say that no youth voted for Brexit, just that they were in a tiny minority.

Below is just a small sample of some of the reactions from young Europeans both in and outside of the UK in the wake of this decision.

Catrin Hughes, 26, (Welsh), Nursing student living in London.

“I feel bitterly disappointed. People were really misled by the media about what leaving the EU would actually mean for the UK. Lots of people just didn’t realise how much they benefited from the EU — I’m thinking of the more deprived areas. It’s going to hit them the hardest and I’m convinced that if those people knew what was funded by the EU in their area, they wouldn’t have voted leave. I get the feeling that lots of people would vote differently if we could do it all again, even now. There’s been a really strange atmosphere in London as a result — the mix of tension, sadness and worry has been really palpable.”

Claudia De Meulemeester, 23, (Belgian/Italian) journalist living in London

“Brexit is a nightmare for young Europeans like me who grew up in a unified Europe and are now seeing our dreams shattered, due to economic uncertainty, social distrust and political incompetence. I’ve just graduated from the University of London and I wonder what the future will hold for me now?”

Clockwise from top left: Philipp Bauer, Chiara Cattaeno, Catrin Hughes, Claudia De Meulemeester, Charlie Thorneycroft / All photos supplied

Charlie Thorneycroft, 22, (British), PPE graduate, living in London

“I’m so frustrated with this referendum I don’t even know where to begin. It revealed why referendums are such a blunt instrument for making complex political decisions. It revealed the bias and dogma in much of our media. It revealed how cynical and ambitious politicians can be. However, as devastated as I am by the result, it important that we remain calm to avoid talking ourselves into a recession. The main positive I can see from our current situation is the potential for a serious shake up of our political landscape Hopefully this crucial and exciting period will inspire new alternatives to our current choice between austerity or an antiquated left.”

Philipp Bauer 27, Computer Programmer, (German) living in Hamburg

“Leaving the EU, Britain has now ended up with regretful citizens. Leave voters reacted to populist nationalistic sentiments which have left not only Great Britain with uncertainty but have damaged the stability of the EU as a whole — both economically and socially.”

Chiara Cattaneo, (Italian), 23, Student, Living in Belgium

“I think that Brexit represents a threat to the effort that brought young people to give up on their borders and create a big community, helped by exchange programmes, Airbnb, Couchsurfing and social networks. Basically people that never experienced this feeling of cultural sharing and enrichment took the drastic decision for all those that were working to enforce it.”

So what comes next for European youth?

While it is not yet clear what any new work and travel arrangements will look like between the EU and the UK in a post-Brexit Europe: whatever the outcome, youth will feel the impacts far longer than their elderly compatriots. For young remainers, turnout was not as high as it might have been: Around 64 percent of eligible 18–24 year olds and 65 percent of 25–39 year olds made their way to the polls. For those over 65, more than 90 percent came out to vote.

There are 1.3 million Brits live in EU countries and an estimated three million Europeans living in the UK. For the moment, politicians in the EU nations and the UK have extended positive sentiments towards working with EU or UK citizens. In Germany, senior politicians suggested offering young Britons dual citizenship so they would not lose out on EU citizenship. In the last week a bill was introduced to the UK parliament (supported by all major parties aside from UKIP and Conservatives) that would allow EU citizens to stay following Brexit.

In early July, between 30,000 and 50,000 protestors marched through London to call for EU to stay together. An online petition demanding a second referendum garnered more than four million votes in less than a week. In recent days however, the new Conservative British Prime Minister, Theresa May (a remain campaigner), promised to make “a success of Brexit”.

With a raft of contentious issues relating to financial regulation and migration continuing to cause tension across the continent, this tumultuous stage of EU history is likely to continue for some time yet. Growing right-wing factions in major Europeans member-states such as France and Netherlands have each called for their own exit referendums. However, for young Europeans such as those interviewed above — the people who will shape the history of this continent, in spite of the Brexit — a strong sense of cooperation and shared European identity remains.


Author Bio: Feilidh (Faylee) is a 28-year-old dual New Zealand and UK passport holder living in Hamburg, Germany. He is currently writing his thesis for the Mundus Journalism master’s about alternative, participatory media on YouTube and was formerly an online breaking news journalist in NZ.


This is the third article in a Mundus Collective series where our global network of alumni and post-grad journalism students share their perspectives on the implications of Brexit. All opinions are reflective of authors only and are written independently of any institutional affiliation. Image by Chloe Fill