Why 16 and 17-year-olds must be given a say in the EU referendum

As MPs vote on a crucial amendment, the TUC says no taxation without representation


The TUC believes that everyone with an interest in the UK’s membership of the European Union should get a vote in the EU referendum likely to happen next year. Young people will live longest with whatever decision is made, so it makes no sense to keep them from having a say.

MPs originally rejected an opposition amendment proposing votes for 16 and 17-year-olds when they debated the EU Referendum Bill in the Commons, but a new amendment was subsequently passed in the Lords to include it. Today MPs will consider that amendment and other changes made in the Lords – choosing to either accept it or refuse and send their decision back to the Lords to think again.

We’re calling on MPs today to vote to accept the House of Lords’ amendment and give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, has said that:

“The EU referendum will seal the fate of the next generation of workers. It will affect their workplace rights, their opportunity to work in other EU countries and the future industrial policy and supply of jobs in the UK. It would be wrong to tell today’s 16 and 17-year-olds that this decision about their future will be made without them.”

There are several other reasons why 16 and 17-year-olds should get the vote on this and other crucial decisions about their future.

There’s a long tradition – the American War of Independence was fought over it – of no taxation without representation. 16 and 17-year-olds are old enough to go to work, pay income taxes and national insurance, even get married and join the armed forces. They should be allowed a say in the decisions their taxes fund and their work contributes to.

While there are some restrictions on what 16 and 17-year-olds can do, these mostly relate to protecting them from harm. Being allowed to vote doesn’t fit that criterion, so it’s difficult to justify without claiming that people at this age aren’t capable of exercising the judgment needed to vote (not that older people have to prove that either!)

And finally, 16 and 17-year-olds have shown they’re up for it, in the Scottish Referendum last year. People may have disagreed with how they voted – it’s a democracy, right? But young Scots showed enthusiasm and readiness to take on their civic responsibilities, and we believe that English, Welsh and Northern Irish 16-and 17-year-olds should be able to join them.

The government has argued that, rather than extend the franchise only for the EU Referendum, there should be a national debate about whether the franchise should be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds for all votes. We say ‘bring it on’ – the TUC has been in favour of extending the franchise wholesale since 1999, when today’s 16-year-olds were born!

You can make your voice known by joining the campaign for votes at 16, and signing the European Movement’s petition on the No 10 website. And, of course, by tweeting your support using #votesat16.

Owen Tudor is the head of European Union and International Relations at the TUC

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