It was the morning of the 24th of June 2016, and I’d been up all night. After months of debate, and weeks of campaigning, millions of people watched with increasing nervousness, until, with a decisive “We’re out!” David Dimbleby showed us the door and the hopes and dreams of young people up and down Britain were smashed.
I was too young to vote at the time, and being a passionate Remainer it seemed insane that older people would have the audacity to drag me out of the EU against my will, especially when I was the one who would have to live with it. Given the supporting statistics – over 65’s were more than twice as likely to have voted leave than under 25’s – and the fact that the leave process has seen the trail of tears morph with a comedy of errors into some ludicrous pantomime – you may be asking why I’m against the so called people’s vote; why I believe that any such vote would be a disaster for my generation.
Firstly, can we please stop calling a second referendum a ‘People’s Vote’. The ‘People’ voted two years ago. Fifty two percent of them voted to leave the EU. And ‘the people’ are not defined by the middle classes streaming out of the metropole to wave around the EU flags they bought when they realised they might have to get a visa every time they want to visit Mallorca.
Most people who voted Leave in 2016 did not do so because they were bigoted, or because they were stupid, but because it felt like the opportunity to give the political class a punch on the nose. And, frankly, good on them.
Can we blame those communities who had their industries destroyed by Thatcher and their hopes of a reversal dashed by New Labour, who worked two jobs but still suffered the indignity of the food bank in Cameron’s austerity, from, literally, taking back control? (if only in a misplaced and metaphorical sense.)
A second referendum, a patronising “you got it wrong”, from that same political class, would reopen old wounds, destroy people’s faith in their democracy and cause class divisions on a scale previously unseen. And it will be my generation who will have to find work navigating such social chasms, who will grow up against a backdrop of civil discord and live with a political landscape devolved into decades of grudge-bearing infighting.
We are also a generation defined by our internationalism. We like to see ourselves as ‘citizens of the world’. Well, from Orban in Hungary, to Le Pen in France, to Wilder in the Netherlands, xenophobic, inward-looking politics are back in fashion. This is the world we are citizens of. It might be that holding the EU referendum was one of the few things that have held back the tide of far right populism that has engulfed the rest of Europe. One can only pray that the likes of Macron and Juncker face up to reality and see that people across Europe believe the EU is a failing system – and do something about it. In any event, I’m certain that a betrayal by the political class in the form of a Second Referendum will engender a huge swing to the right among Leave communities, and give more credence to the kind of anti-establishment doctrines that power the far right across Europe.
Is this the kind of world we want our children to be born in to?
I’m not suggesting that the vote to leave the EU will trigger a realisation at the heart of government that the system isn’t working. For many, austerity marches on. But what did we expect?
It was this generation of politicians that lied about tuition fees. That messed up the job market, triggered a housing crisis and recession, and that, now, is messing up Brexit too. It’ll be up to my generation to fix these things. But I’d rather rebuild amidst the foundations, than be left with nothing at all, which undoubtedly would be the result of an explosive ‘people’s vote’. A vote which will cause massive class stratification, a huge swing to the far right, and destroy the fragile bonds just starting to regrow amid a nation divided.