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Generation Brexodus

15/07/2016 12:34 | Updated 15 July 2016

Worried by Brexit, many young people are considering whether their future lies outside the UK...

During the coverage of the referendum result, I fell asleep, covered in Pringle crumbs and expecting Everything To Be OK. I awoke, bleary-eyed, to find David Dimbleby telling me my future now looked like a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic hellscape. Terrifyingly, slowly, inexorably I realised that my sense of belonging to my own country was ebbing away. And that I had run out of Pringles. I'm not one of those people who claim, before every election, that if the Tories win they'll "move to Ireland" as a protest. After fate calls their bluff, those people tend to mumble something about the inadequacies of Irish Netflix and just crack on with things, a little bit more unhappy. This thought - to interpret "leave" as a personal imperative - emerged calmly and logically. Admittedly, that was after I had screamed at the TV, begging David Dimbleby to take it all back.

The first wave of fear was financial. Want to own a home one day? Well, houses prices are rising post-Brexit. To which any sane person would respond, "RISING? Is it actually possible for house prices to rise? Is there actually that much money in the world?" Want to, for example, be a scientist? Well, have fun with that as £1 billion of funding is removed from UK science, poindexter. Want to retreat back into academia to build up your CV? Well, British universities have just lost 15% of their funding. Good luck hanging onto your job during the possible upcoming recession and likely rise in unemployment, by the way. Maybe you want to go on holiday to cheer yourself up, as you face a cross-generational existential crisis? Enjoy getting €1 for your wheelbarrow full of sterling.

But the second wave of fear, which has hit me harder, is cultural. Without really being aware of it, we are a generation that was born European. For us, working in Germany, Spain or France is a choice as casually taken as moving to Bristol. With so many foreign friends and constant online access to European culture, the idea that the "the continent" was some horrible land mass full of funny-talking people who should leave us alone just doesn't occur. Europe is the place we go without a visa, where you learn skills and fall in love and experience different lifestyles. With Brexit, all that is slipping away. You can spot the people who are most worried about all this, because they have a Young Person's Railcard and a permanent look of horror.

Which might explain why so many people my age are thinking of leaving the UK. The BBC recently interviewed businesses that aim to attract young people, who said they now have real concerns that there will be a youth brain drain from Britain. But I knew this, because The Conversation is already circulating around my friends. My flatmate, who works for a wine importer/exporter, has started brushing up on his Swedish. Another friend, who works in finance, has signed up to an organisation called Escape The City, which helps people in the financial sector leave London and use their skills abroad. One friend is moving to her ancestral homeland - which is Iran - because she finds the political and economic situation there "less insane". We have all lost a sense that we belong here.

Many people voted Leave because they felt membership of the EU was damaging their sense of British identity. James Meek has written incisively for the London Review of Books about how some EU policies have driven frustrated, provincial voters into backing Leave. Like a see-saw, the trade off has been for those voters to gain some apparently more solidified sense of Britishness - or given the voting patterns in the UK, their Englishness - whilst many young people feel they have lost what they were born with, their Europeanness. Worse, it seems that this cultural grab-back won't actually solve any of the problems that people attributed to the EU in the first place. The strain on public services and the lack of job opportunities has always been because of the policy of our government. That "£350 million for the NHS" has disappeared faster than a Brexit politician. For a generation that is already crippled by student debt, eye-watering house prices and year-long unpaid internships our only small source of succour was that we were 'culture rich, cash poor'. Now we are culture poor, too.

Us Remainers calling ourselves "cultural refugees" would be hyperbolic. I have an screamingly apocalyptic hatred of hyperbole. The real refugees are those fleeing, for example, the horror of Syria to make a better lives for themselves. You know the ones. The ones who have driven us to "breaking point". It's rather that young people may not want to live in a country where a poster like that has become part of mainstream political discourse, and where there is a simply terrifying rise in racially motivated abuse and attacks.

Whilst immigration has been the central focus of the post-referendum debate, no one is talking about depopulation. The very people our economy needs - ambitious, openminded, engaged young people - now have a large number of reasons to leave the UK. All those jokes about how laughably more socially just and happy Denmark is compared to the UK have stopped being funny and started becoming genuine arguments. When a joke becomes an argument - when the circus becomes the agora - it's time to think about a change of location.

Why didn't more young people bother to vote in the referendum then? Well, actually, we did. Contrary to initial assumptions, The Guardian recently reported that 64% of young people voted in the EU referendum, with around 75% backing Remain. It's true that is lower than the 90% of over 65's who voted overwhelming Leave. But by my slightly morbid calculations, based on UK life expectancy and the assumption we leave the EU in two years, over 65s will enjoy "taking back control" for 14 years. Many of them behind a firewall of a politically sacrosanct state pension, maybe a private pension and possibly a fully paid-off mortgage. Meanwhile, voters my age - the ones who don't end up falling down a well in tragic selfie-stick accidents - will live with the consequences for many decades.

Where will I go? Well, I'm in the insane position now of hoping Scotland gain independence, stay in the EU and accept me into their pro-Europe, social democratic, open society. Failing that, I hear Denmark has a small inequality gap and great pastries.

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