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Thursday's EU Referendum: Crucial for Young People - And a Chance for Us All to Have Our Say

21/06/2016 16:59 | Updated 21 June 2016

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There are only two days left to go now before voters have their say on whether or not we remain a member of the European Union. This decision is absolutely fundamental to the future of our nation. It's result will shape Britain's 21st century. A century that our young people are more invested in than any of us - they're likely to spend much more time in it!

Unlike a General Election, we won't get to 'course correct' in five years' time if we change our minds later, or things haven't work out as we'd hoped. So this vote is in once-in-a-generation decision. We need to get it right.

But the best chance of getting a result that reflects our country's wishes is if this poll really does reflect everyone's views. And it's especially a problem if that most 'invested' young generation doesn't have its say. That would leave us with a real democratic deficit that's doubly compounded. Firstly, the polling and research to date tells us that young people are much less likely to vote than their grandparents' generation. But secondly it also tells us that our young people seem to hold pretty much opposite views on our membership of the EU to older generations, with young people more likely to want to stay in, and older people more likely to want us to leave.

In no way would it be good for our democracy if we emerged from this referendum with a young generation who faced that 'double' democratic deficit - they hadn't had their say, plus the result was the polar opposite of what they wanted. And then having no means of undoing it.

That's why I was such an active supporter of the big push to get all eligible people, young people in particular, registered to vote, so that everyone could have their say. It was an encouraging sign that, in the three weeks between the official start of the campaign on 27 May and the extended deadline for registration passing on 9 June, more than 1.8 million people applied to register to vote. More than 60% of these were under 34 years old, and 77% were under 45.

It's a significant first step forward. Great. But now it's time to make those votes count for our most important vote in a generation, by casting them at the ballot box. Newly registered voters need to make sure they use their vote in the referendum on Thursday, especially young people whose future will be affected most.

For me, the right result is definitely one that sees us remain in the EU. I believe that a vote to remain in the EU is how we help ensure a stronger, safer, and more stable future for Britain, one that provides the greatest opportunities for the next generation. It's about being clear that our best chance of tackling the big challenges facing Britain, Europe and the wider world is by working in partnership with other countries, with our neighbours, not by walking away from them and the table where the debates are being held. That's my view, not everyone will agree. There are pros and cons whichever path we take.

But whatever your view, this referendum matters for lots of reasons. Coming as it does just days after the tragic death of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox, it's our first chance to use our individual right to vote and send a clear message: that in Britain, it is through our democracy, not through violence and intimidation, that we decide our country's future path and who represents our communities. No one has the right to override the ballot box in our democracy. The more people who vote on 23rd June, the stronger that message is, and I believe the stronger it makes our country's democracy.

In recent days I've really appreciated all the #ThankYourMP messages of support I've had from constituents for my work as an MP, and on Monday many moving tributes were paid to Jo Cox in the House of Commons. I think a further great tribute would be to see as many young people as possible voting on 23rd June, taking their proper place in our democratic debate, directly showing their support for the democracy that Jo Cox gave her life being an integral part of. She joins so many other brave Britons who have done the same over the decades. Our democracy is precious - by voting we each play our part in protecting it. It has never been more poignant or more important to show that than this Thursday. Let a new generation have its say.

Justine Greening is the international development secretary and Conservative MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields

HuffPost UK Young Voices is running a month-long focus on the EU Referendum, examining what is at stake for Britain's young people on 23 June and why it's imperative you register to vote and have your say. If you want to have your say and blog on our platform around this topic, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. Register to vote here.

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