Since Britain voted to exit the European Union (EU) in its Brexit vote last week, the aftershocks of a result that nobody actually predicted have continued to reverberate through my social circles, both online and in real life in London, where I live. Long Facebook statuses lamenting the state of British politics flooded my timeline. My Whatsapp blew up. Friends shed tears. I've never seen a political result generate an emotional fall-out as large as this one, even though most of that emotion seems to be coming from those who voted to remain, and lost.
I don't actually know anyone who voted to leave; they're all staying pretty quiet at the moment, but a few are now voicing their "Bregret," or "Regrexit"; regret about voting us out in the first place. Polling data from YouGov shows that about 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted to remain a member of the European Union. And in London, where I live along with millions of other young people, almost 60 percent of us dominated the Remain result.
This referendum has ignited a wave of unprecedented political discussion and dissent. Thousands of people are set to protest the result in a "London Stays" march planned in the capital tomorrow, there's a petition doing the rounds calling for a second referendum, and I've lost count of the amount of the number of political think pieces and commentaries suggesting that we, as the British public, have lost our collective minds.
Really though, as ugly as it seems, this is what democracy actually looks like, I guess. Even though the vote was ridiculously close (52 percent to 48 percent overall) and U.K. referendums are advisory, not legally binding, right now nobody knows if we're going to act on this and pull out of the EU or not. Our Prime Minister David Cameron (who wanted to Remain) has vowed to step down in October, and his potential successor, Boris Johnson (of the Leave camp) is now dragging his heels about exiting the EU because there's no plan in place to do so anyway. What I'm worried about, though, is the future of the U.K. for the millennial generation; most of us voted to remain, but have now been told by our parents' generation that we'll have to live with the consequences of their decision and exist outside the EU for the first time in our lives.
Although we can't predict with certainty how and when young people will start to feel the impact of Brexit, here's a few reasons why we should be anxious.
Britain's exit from the EU could greatly hinder our education prospects. All member states have enjoyed greatly reduced (and sometimes free) college education, with a special scheme called Erasmus providing a grant which allows students to take a year of study in a neighboring EU country. Whilst studying at university, I watched my friends thrive as global citizens through a selection of amazing work and education programs, so it's pretty devastating to consider that we might be stripped of these opportunities which have helped us develop socially and equip ourselves with employable skills.
And with British undergraduate college fees now considered the highest in the industrialized world, Brexit will discriminate against U.K. students desperate for cheaper options abroad and prevent us from thriving in an increasingly competitive global market. Young people also risk being taught by a less diverse skill-set of academics in their home institutions. Experts have also predicted a second Brexit, this time in the form of a brain drain. Stephen Curry, a professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, told the Times Higher Education that some colleagues felt "increasingly unwelcome" where they worked, and that he believed academics would opt to work and study in South Korea or other European countries: "There are plenty of good places to go ... [Brexit will have] a clear and immediate impact on recruiting people from abroad" and create a "rapid drop-off" in hiring academics from overseas, he said.
Britain's membership of the EU means that citizens can live and work within the 28 countries of the EU, which has been of major benefit to young people; we've had access to a more varied pool of jobs, enjoyed cheaper air-fare and cell roaming charges, and we haven't needed visas to work or travel in interesting, culturally diverse cities. If we do leave, it's unlikely that the remaining member states would allow us the privilege of freedom of movement, especially as it's anti-border rhetoric which inspired the Leave decision in the first place. Basically, Britain wants to tighten its border controls but still benefit from its own citizens moving around freely; this smacks of hypocrisy and xenophobia, and completely sends out the wrong global message about our country.
As a generation, Brexit could mean that we as young people are probably going to become less mobile, because travel is after all, something of a luxury. Removing ourselves from the EU looks set to increase admin fees for additional travel documents, and in broad socioeconomic terms, inequalities and divisions in the U.K. will be greatly increased in terms of the type of people who can access travel experience (i.e. those of us with money).
Youth unemployment in the U.K. hit a record high last year, with The Guardian reporting that young Brits are three times more likely to be unemployed than anyone else in the country. A Brexit move is therefore most likely to further exacerbate unemployment rates amongst the young. And a government report from HM Treasury before the result came out predicted that "a vote to leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy.
"That shock would push our economy into a recession and lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000, GDP would be 3.6 percent smaller, average real wages would be lower, inflation higher, sterling weaker," the report stated. When you also consider that U.K. citizens can apply for funding for business, science, agriculture, tech and other industries, as members of the EU, it looks certain that skilled young people look set to miss out on the greatest career-boosting benefits of EU membership, as well as bear the brunt of an economic downturn when, and if, unemployment rates increase.
Much like it is in the States, the dream of homeownership is a pillar-stone of success for many young millennials, but in the U.K. there's severe competition for affordable housing — especially in the big cities, which makes it even harder for young people to get their own set of keys. According to The Guardian, Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons, stated that Brexit could result in young people in the U.K. getting a foot on the housing ladder more easily, because the limits placed on immigration quotas that may happen when Britain becomes wholly independent might mean there's less competition for houses.
However, it's more likely that the Leave vote could result in more high-end, foreign investment in our housing market (which isn't going to help most of us, of course) as the pound continues to fall in value, and property becomes a cheaper option for overseas investors. Mortgage conditions could also tighten as uncertainty persists meaning young people probably won't benefit at all in this sense, once more.
Overall, as we consider a real Brexit move, the impact on young people in the U.K. will be detrimental. I can't emphasize how much most of my friends and family fear us really pulling out of the EU. Not only will our own experiences be jeopardized in terms of travel and education, but we look set to bear the greatest burden of a decision made by our parents' generation in terms of the negative effect it could have on our housing and job prospects.
As more and more millennials increasingly see themselves as part of a global community, as opposed to aligning themselves with a national identity, Brexit seems to be an archaic move back towards an imperialist Britain of an age none of us can relate to. Brexit sends out a worrying message to the rest of the world: you're not welcome in Britain. And for the majority of young people living here today, that's simply not true.