Brexit will destroy relationships, sunder families and narrow the outlook of future generations.
Britain’s youngest generation has grown up with uninterrupted peace across western Europe, and has experienced what life can be like when countries work together for the greater good.
Yes, this means they take peace and cooperation between EU countries ‘for granted’, and rightly so. But their increased political activism is in part a sign that they are becoming more aware of the need to support a Europe which cooperates and develops together, and for a country that embraces diversity, freedom of movement, and internationalism.
The age demographics of the Brexit vote in June 2016 are well-known: around 73% of young people under 24 voted to remain, compared with only 40% of people over 60.
Yet it is self-evidently young people who are going to have to live longest with the consequences of Brexit, if it happens.
These consequences are numerous and wide-ranging, and can be grouped into three categories: economic, social and identity.
Many baby boomers from the UK (like myself) benefited from free higher education, maintenance grants, affordable housing (that has increased in value much faster than wages have risen), and the prospect of good pensions.
Conversely, people now in their twenties leave university with significant debt, face sky-high housing costs and can expect far less job security than their parents or grandparents.
This sense of generational inequality, exacerbated for young people living in areas which have higher levels of social and economic deprivation, was a key factor in the 2017 general election; Labour’s recognition of this in its manifesto saw a 20% increase in its vote share in the under 40s.
But another factor was Brexit, where the narrow victory for Leave in 2016, after a low turnout among young people resulted in older voters has depriving a younger generation of future opportunities.
Economists are clear about who is affected the most whenever the economy falters: the young and the low-skilled.Following the crisis in 2008, youth unemployment rose to 22% in the UK (compared to 6% for those over 25).
With Brexit, especially if we have bad deal or, even worse, a no-deal Brexit, the short and medium term shock to the UK economy will leave young people paying the highest price of leaving the EU.
Those who have grown up with the UK as part of the EU in the last 40 years take the ease of travel, of studying abroad and of being able to work in work in all the countries of the EU’s single market.
For students, over the past decade, there has been a 50% increase in the number of UK students going abroad through the Erasmus+ scheme; in 2013-2014 alone, 15,610 UK students went to study or work in EU27 countries. Yet this is likely to be reversed if we leave the EU.
When it comes to immigration, many of this new generation of Brits have experienced first-hand the value of learning with students from other EU member states at school and university.
EU nationals are school friends, flatmates, work colleagues and sometimes that special person with whom you build a future family together.
Brexit would mean fewer opportunities to live in multicultural communities, to study abroad cheaply and to work with colleagues from all over Europe.
Many young people feel instinctively that there is nothing incompatible with being both British and European – just as one can be Yorkshire and English and British – having grown up in an interconnected world and a Britain which is diverse, where identities are multiple.
Sadly, with Brexit darkening their horizon, some young people in the UK with one or both parents from abroad, and who were never particularly bothered about where their passport was issued, are having to apply for UK nationality.
Many Brits living in other EU countries are applying to become citizens of their host country in order to be sure to continue living in their homes, which brings its own set of distress and challenges, if they lose the entitlement currently enjoyed by being an EU national.
Aside from the bureaucratic hassle and cost, it stirs up unpleasant feelings of having to ‘choose’ between identities depending on who they are talking to or what they are applying for.
Being offered a job, given a loan or securing a place at university is likely to be harder if you do not have the ‘right’ nationality, and those with more than one nationality are being asked to ‘choose’. Being British shouldn’t prevent someone from also being Italian or Swedish.
Worse, families living in the UK risk being split up. Tens of thousands of households with a British and a non-British European partners, are having to reconsider working in the UK due to fears over permanent entitlement to residency being rejected.
Furthermore, the current UK definition of family unification excludes adult children and family members, except for the sick and elderly.
This could mean that, within the next couple of years, healthy adult children will not be able to live with their parents, and vice versa, thus stopping even those ordinarily considered to be close family from enjoying family life together. Brexit might result in splitting up multicultural families currently living in Britain.
Richard Corbett MEP is Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. He tweets here.
This is an abridged version of an article originally published on Richard’s blog. The full text can be read here.
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