The vote to leave the European Union in 2016 uncovered a host of demographic and geographic differences that had been bubbling away under the surface of British culture. Class differences, the urban-rural divide and regional differences were brutally exposed by the result of that vote.

But the biggest difference was the difference between the old and the young.

According to a YouGov poll published immediately afterwards, people aged 18-25 voted remain by a majority of 58 percentage points (79% to 21%), whilst those aged 64 and older voted leave by a 28-point margin (64% to 36%) – making the youngest age bracket 86 points more pro-Remain than the oldest.

Most families don’t discuss politics, so parents and grandparents went to the polls without knowing what their children and grandchildren wanted or why.

Brexit is an affront to young people

This is stunning, but there are good reasons for the high Remain vote amongst young people. There are ideological reasons that we hear about quite often. Young people as a group are, for the most part, liberal, left-wing and internationalist so it’s no surprise that Brexit – a right-wing, nationalist, socially conservative coup, proved so offensive to us in so many ways.

It’s often said that Britain’s bleak economic prospects prompted Brexit as a protest vote, but Brexit will make the issue much, much worse. This is also why any successful campaign to stop Brexit should include demands to bring health and education back under public control, to restore funding for the welfare state, and to put money into towns and villages that have been hit hard by high unemployment and low wages. But that’s another issue.

Dare to share your views

Boris Johnson blimp at a pro-EU march in London in July.

All of this is well documented. We know that young people are pro-EU and we know why. The issue is that when I go to pro-EU events, it’s a rarity that I’m not the youngest person in the room by at least 20 years. This situation is unsustainable: you can’t fight and win a campaign when the demographic groups that are most engaged are the ones who are most likely to oppose you.

This is not a new problem, of course, but there’s no reason why we can’t find a new solution. Social media has presented one, with more and more young people engaging with politics online. This, however, can only take us so far.

In my experience, the biggest part of the problem is our attitude towards discussing politics. For young people who are interested in politics, admitting to your friends that you take an interest and discussing your views is not a problem but showing it publicly, by going to meetings and events or posting on social media is.

I know what the views of my friends are on Brexit, on Jeremy Corbyn, on the Prime Minister, on the various political parties and a host of other major issues, but many other people in their lives – including their parents – don’t know because it can’t be discussed.

I find this attitude very odd. Politics is a familiar topic of conversation in my house. This proved particularly important at the referendum.

I don’t think my discussions with my family changed how they voted, as none of us ever considered voting Leave. Nonetheless, talking with my mother and particularly my grandmother about why I wanted Britain to remain was vital because it allowed me to be heard, even though I couldn’t vote. It allowed my grandmother to put those arguments to her friends and other family, and I like to think that it inspired my family to be even more active in the campaign against Brexit, both before and after the referendum.

Not malice but lack of awareness

There is a cruel irony that those who tell young people “you are the future” are the exact same people who voted to kill the future we wanted to create. This wasn’t done out of malice or anger, but out of a lack of awareness.

“You are the future.”

Because most families don’t discuss politics, parents and grandparents went to the polls in 2016 without knowing what their children and grandchildren wanted or why. I believe changing this is the key to finally defeating Brexit and healing our country once and for all.

If you are another young person reading this, talk to your parents and grandparents about Brexit. Ask them if they support it and what their reasoning is, and tell them why you don’t. Join your local pro-EU group. Post on social media about why you hold your views on Brexit. 

Get it out there in any way you can that this is not the future we want. Yes, this is our future, but we cannot do it alone. These conversations are key to getting our parents’ and grandparents’ support in creating the change we want to see.

If you are a parent or grandparent reading this, ask your children or grandchildren about Brexit, ask why they do or don’t oppose it, and find out why.

It is conversations like these that will allow us to defeat Brexit with the support of people of all ages, and finally allow Britain to begin the process of healing the wounds opened by that shocking and divisive referendum.

4 COMMENTS

  1. So true.
    I argued with my soon to be 80 mum that if we had talked about politics then perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today. She replied that it was not a subject she wanted to discuss and that she had been taught to keep her politics to herself by which I assume she means I should too.
    Yet, if you travel across Europe and even the USA everyone talks about politics. I’ve brought up my sons to discuss, debate and argue their points, even if I don’t agree.
    Brexit was a binary choice and here we are with millions disenfranchised from family, friends and even the parties they normally support.
    I blame government after government for where we are but mainly David Cameron for not bothering to find out what leaving the EU really meant and ignoring the citizens of the UK by giving them a binary question. It could never be Yes or No.
    And our children and our children’s children will pay the price for an incompetent government who could simply have used the information in an advisory way.
    How the rest of the world will be enjoying the arrogance and ignorance.

  2. I am 70 and voted to Remain! It’s about numbers. Many of my generation are stuck in some past Arcadian ideal that doesn’t exist, but many young people are stuck in their mobile phones buying stuff and assuming everything will be ok. It’s not generational, it’s being crap at both ends of the human age span.

  3. Do not assume all the older generation voted for Brexit, I voted to Remain because I spent much of my ‘childhood’ sheltering from bombings raids. A united Europe held the peace for Europe at least. Proxy war is another matter.
    In my circles it has been rare to find a Brexiteer in my age groups 80 Plus. We live Pre NHS, we knew of the hardships.
    There were many reasons, I was amazed at the number of younger people who fell for lies on the side of the bus.
    The vote was simplistic, it was also very close. To the young people I would say change the system of first past the post. You are all doing a good job at being aware, you have the support of many of us oldies.
    The real enemy is the vested interest of the few.

  4. The three previous posters talk a lot of sense and I agree with all the points raised.
    I get extremely angry when I read or hear someone claiming that 60-pluses were automatically Brexit supporters and it’s down to them that we are in the current mess.
    Not in a million years would I or my husband, both 70+, even consider voting against remaining in the EU. It may be relevant that we have both lived and worked in mainland Europe and I continue to work as a freelance translator with clients based in the EU. In some people’s books, merely learning foreign languages (I have a degree in Spanish and Portuguese) are pandering to Johnny Foreigner. Let them learn English, they say. They also fail to realise that Britannia long since ceased to rule the waves

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