15/12/2016 12:07 GMT | Updated 16/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Giving Young People A Voice On Brexit


In just a few months time, the UK will be triggering Article 50 and begin the process of negotiations that may change our future forever. And, while the new PM Theresa May is adamant that 'Brexit means Brexit', what the term 'Brexit' actually means and what it will actually look like is still worryingly ambiguous.

In such an irrevocable and significant event, it is crucial that every sector of society plays a part and has a say. And no sector of society is more important than those who will have to live with this decision the longest: the youth. Where was their representation in the Supreme Court hearing? Who is banging the drum for them in the forthcoming negotiations? The EU referendum revealed a politically engaged and mobilised youth, with the highest turnout for this age group since the 1990s. The turnout of the under-30s in the referendum is a remarkably high figure against the backdrop of declining electoral turnout and political engagement more generally among young voters in the past decade. 72% of eligible voters participated in the referendum, the highest turnout for any national poll since the 1997 general election, though slightly lower than that seen for the Scottish Independence Referendum.

Getting young people registering to vote and turning out has always been an issue. This is due to a multitude of reasons, which have lead to voter apathy among the youth: from lack of emphasis on political education in schools; parental influence, level of education and income background - which often affects your interest in registering to vote and decision-making ability when actually voting - to lack of representation in governmental processes. The youth today are diverse and dynamic. This is simply not reflected in the 'pale, male and stale' government, in which politicians are not considered trustworthy or able to represent the needs of young people. Politicians seem detached, indifferent and out-of-touch - and most of them are.

Overall there is a vicious circle whereby as a result of young people not registering to vote or turning out, the issues that many campaigns focus on are not relevant to young people. The youth are consequently not considered as a powerful voting bloc worthy of channelling areas of manifesto or policy, leading to the idea that their vote is not valued, which means many young people do not vote - the circle continues.

This was glaringly obvious in the EU referendum, where young people were just not considered in key and crucial decisions such as the timing of the referendum and the voter registration system. Why on earth would you choose to have a referendum slap-bang in the middle of Glastonbury Festival, just as term finishes and many students are going travelling or celebrating the end of exams? And if you were to do so, more emphasis should have been placed on informing young people of how to vote by proxy or post, and that you had to register where you would be voting - i.e. at home or at Uni.

Yet dismissing the importance of young people in the Brexit negotiations because of 'apathy' is wrong and dangerous. Young people most certainly do have an interest in politics and utilise social media to keep up to date with current affairs. They are not disengaged with politics per se. but with a political system that doesn't work for them. The youth are a huge voting bloc with true potential to be engaged and mobilised, and this was exemplified in the EU referendum. Because the EU referendum directly affected them, and because there were channels whereby they could affect real change in political direction, young people from both sides of the fence were mobilised to an exceptional extent.

However despite this increase in electoral engagement, the turnout of under-30s still lagged behind that of their elders. While 71% of under-30s were certain they would vote on the 23rd June, this compares with 75% of 31-50 year olds, 81% of 51-60 year olds and 84% of the over-65s. The under-30s were, despite the increase in their political engagement, under-represented in the final result compared with the older generation.

It is crucial that we now capture and garner the mobilisation of young people before they become disillusioned with a politics that continues to misrepresent the vast majority of them. We must ensure that the youth feel listened to in the negotiations, and that they have a say.

That's why My Life My Say (MLMS) has registered an All-Party-Parliamentary Group (APPG) for a Better Brexit for Young People. It doesn't matter whether you voted leave or remain, what matters is that you have a say in how the future is shaped for the next generation. The APPG acts as a structured engagement platform between the youth and decision-makers to ensure that the issues, queries and attitudes of young people can affect government policy: that they are heard.