This month, you’d have had to have been living under a rock to avoid the Brexit discussions. Whether it’s Boris shouting from the rooftops ‘Knickers to the pessimists and the merchants of gloom’, or Cameron declaring that World War III might be triggered by Brexit, it’s all we’ve heard about. Even Obama and Trump across the pond have added their two pence worth, with their opposing views about whether we should stay or go. The whole debate deepened when Austria’s Norbert Hofer of The Freedom Party almost became the first far-right leader within the European Union. Even after narrowly losing, political commentators have predicted that his success will encourage other countries to follow suit and support nationalist parties, especially if it allows them to seize control of their own borders back from the EU. The people of Poland have already shown huge support for their far-right party, and the Netherlands claims to be gearing up for a referendum of its own if the Brits back Brexit.
Statistically, Millennials are the most likely to be affected by the outcome of Brexit, whether that’s through job security, travel trends or overall finances. But in a twist of fate, they are also the least likely to vote, with less than 50% turnout expected for the under 35s. Unsurprisingly, they’re also the least sure of themselves; of all demographics, they are the largest group of ‘undecided’. Torn between, on the one hand, the desire for political accountability and national sovereignty, and, on the other, the concerns about the consequences of what the Stronger In campaign calls ‘the great unknown’, none of us Millennials remembers life before the EU. But setting aside the scare tactics of the Bremainers and the passions of the Brexiteers, what would a potential exit from the EU really spell for Britain’s Generation Y?
First and foremost, our votes would start to matter again. Our government would regain the power that’s been lost to Brussels, and with increased power would also come increased accountability. No longer would Osborne be able to blame ludicrous VAT laws on being a part of the EU; instead, he would actually need to justify his tax proposals and answer to the electorate. This is especially significant for small businesses. With almost 30 variable VAT rates, it has become virtually impossible for small and medium businesses to work out what they should pay to whom, and when. Bringing VAT back to one UK-wide rate would help young start-up companies to reduce paperwork and red tape – and not just through tax, but through numerous other EU-wide policies that could be scrapped, or at least reconsidered if they are hindering SME growth. However, these obstacles are precisely the reason that banks and big business are such huge funders of the In Campaign; staying in the UK keeps their competition at arm’s length. They have the resources and clout to overcome these obstacles, and rejoice in the hindrances faced by their less established and less well financed competitors.
The biggest concern of most voters, whichever side of the fence you’re on, is immigration. The In camp is pushing for increased immigration from within the EU, while the Brexiteers want tighter immigration controls – or at least the ability to make our own decisions about who we accept into the country. Very few in the Brexit camp think immigration itself is the problem; rather, it is the unjust idea that the UK must allow anyone from the EU to enter, whether skilled or unskilled, at the expense of highly skilled non-EU workers from Africa, Asia or the Americas. One of the biggest immigration misconceptions is that EU migrants are only coming to the UK for benefits. On the contrary, only 15% claim benefits. But the flipside of this is the effect on the indigenous (for want of a better word) population. With Spanish youth unemployment now almost 50%, and Italy’s not far behind on 40%, European Millennials are now flocking to the UK for work in both skilled and unskilled capacities. Very few people in the UK choose to claim benefits (as with any country, there will always be some who take the easy option with them), but when jobs are so few and far between, there is little choice for British Millennials who can’t even get part-time university work in a coffee shop.
Immigration can most definitely change a country for the better, if it’s controlled and if it’s the right kind of immigration at the time. However, it can also cause serious economic dislocations and even social unrest. Countries like New Zealand, for instance, are currently on a drive to attract young, skilled Millennial workers to their country to boost their economy, as they have a job surplus. Yet when unemployment is so low in the UK, is it not right that we should have the power to decide who is given the right to work, and when, depending on our own economic prospects?
As Britain continues to swell, and junior doctors threaten to leave the country in droves due to the funding crisis, the NHS has hit, in its own words, ‘breaking point’. And that’s exactly what Vote Leave are reminding us all; their Brexit bus has the words ‘We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead’ emblazoned on the side whilst zooming around the country on what can only be described as Boris’s campaign march to freedom. Would leaving the EU really have such a detrimental effect on the NHS, as Cameron and Britain Stronger In so forcefully claim? What could possibly make the NHS become less effective if the UK had an extra £350 million a week to spend on junior doctors – doctors who had fewer patients to treat, and no TTIP agreement poised to allow huge swaths of the NHS to be privatized?
Whether it’s the over-stretched NHS, or the fact that primary schools have left a staggering one in six children without a place at a preferred primary school this September, there is no doubt that the Brexit debate affects everyone of all ages in the UK. For Millennials though, it is of vital importance that we look at what’s important to us, and that we get off our backsides and make our voices heard in what is such a momentous decision. As a generation, we must rubbish the idea that wanting control and accountability over our borders makes us hard-right racist xenophobes, or that uncontrolled immigration from Europe makes us the nice guys of Europe. The reality is that the closer we are to the EU, the further we isolate ourselves from non-EU countries and the highly skilled Millennials that would benefit Britain by moving here and contribute both to our economy and our culture. Millennials should be supporting Britain’s flourishing start-up scene by standing up to the banks, to big business, and by being proud to be in a country where we are being offered our democracy and sovereignty back at the tick of a box.