In 2016, British young people under the age of 18 were not allowed to vote on whether or not to leave the European Union. Many were frustrated that they could not participate in a referendum with a huge impact on their future. The adolescents of then are the young adults of today. What keeps them busy and how do they see their future in a UK outside the EU? I spoke to several dozen young people during my journey through the UK, skipping London and focusing on the areas where a majority of the population voted for Brexit. It resulted in a series of articles about their struggle with urgent social issues.
Published by newspaper The Guardian 15 oktober 2021: Growing up in Northern Ireland free of the Troubles
Published by newspaper Trouw 7 oktober 2021: Jong en wanhopig
Published by newspaper De Morgen 8 oktober 2021: Geen idee hoe Brexit uitpakt voor ons
Published by newspaper De Limburger
Brexit Inbetweeners 16 sept 2021 part 1: Als er eenmaal zout door je bloed stroomt krijg je het er niet meer uit
Brexit Inbetweeners 23 sept 2021 part 2: We bouwen zelf de wereld waarin we willen leven
Brexit Inbetweeners 30 sept 2021 part 3: En dan heb je niets meer om voor te leven
Brexit Inbetweeners 7 oktober 2021 part 4: Een verlies voor de jeugd die in Europa wilde blijven
Brexit Inbetweeners 14 oktober 2021 part 5: Wij hebben genoeg van de haat van onze ouders
Brexit has set in motion a transition that affects the very capillaries of society, and there is no one who can foresee the consequences. This makes young people insecure about their own future. It is an inheritance that they would rather not have received. More than 75% of voters between the ages of 18 and 25 wanted to stay with Europe in 2016. They had nothing to do with the themes that played a role in the Brexit referendum, such as the desire to gain more control over migration, fisheries and trade. And this has not changed over time, according to subsequent polls.
If you ask today's adolescents what they notice about Brexit in their daily lives, they are the first to describe the feeling of being stuck on an island. It bothers them that studying and working in European countries is no longer possible, or has become much more complicated. Some think that a visa will soon be needed to go on holiday in Europe. They also notice that quite a few products have become scarce and that prices in the shops have risen.
I spoke to several dozen young people during my journey through the UK, skipping London and focusing on the areas where a majority of the population voted for Brexit. Cities such as Lowestoft, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Glasgow and Belfast were once dynamic and prosperous cities, with proud workers in the fishing, shipbuilding, mining and steel industries. But when that stopped, everything changed. The decimation of heavy industry in the Thatcher era left a wound in the psyche of the people. Post-industrial poverty led to a hopeless existence for the broken and traumatized residents. The workers lost not only their jobs, but also their pride and sense of community. They had to overcome their hatred of Thatcher and the Conservative Party to vote for Brexit. They did this because they were sick of living in poverty. Take back control sounded like the change everyone was craving.
A common thread in the stories of the youngsters I met, is the concern about the social problems in their immediate environment. They see the differences between young and old, poor and rich, north and south, white and black become larger rather than smaller. In general, young people have nothing against migration and migrants. They want to live in an open and diverse society, with inclusiveness and cultural exchange as important values. Instead, new laws have strengthened the anti-immigration atmosphere and it has become increasingly accepted to openly express racist and hateful feelings. Combined with social problems such as unemployment, low salaries, unaffordable rents and energy bills, and the doom of empty shelves in shops, it is not surprising that many are beginning to dream of a life in continental Europe. Not the arrival of migrants, but the departure of talented young people could well become a real problem.
No one can predict the future, but I wouldn't be surprised if historians later point to Brexit as the beginning of the end of the UK. It is not inconceivable that Northern Ireland will eventually merge into a united Ireland and that Scotland will leave the UK as an independent nation. The fact that – ironically – the Brexiteers in Westminster are trying with all their might to prevent this, fits perfectly in the tradition of a Shakespearean drama about a kingdom in dissolution.