EU Referendum – Why we can’t solely blame Brexit on the old and why we shouldn’t ‘move on and get over it’

It has been four days since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, a decision on which we are anything but united on. By definition, and at 52%-48%, we almost couldn’t be more divided. In the title of my dissertation I poked fun at the divisive nature of US politics, but now the jokes on us.

There is so much that could, should, must and already has been said about the referendum. For starters, the naked xenophobia surrounding the campaign and the emboldened racism that have followed it will be addressed in my next post. I’ve wanted to speak out against the anti-immigration rhetoric that has been legitimatised by our ill-advised, polarising and ultimately ill-fated EU referendum and the last few days have shown that now is the time. Right now, however, there are a couple of smaller things that I need to get off my chest.

First of all, I wholeheartedly understand the anger that my generation is harbouring towards the older generation, and over 65’s in particular. There’s a quote that has been doing the rounds on social media, and it goes something like this:

“[Brexit] is the last ‘fuck you’ from the baby boomers. They took the secure corporate and government jobs with the guaranteed pay rises and final salary pension schemes and benefitted from property they bought cheap and sold dear. They burnt the bridges behind them by colluding with the dismantling of the very things that had brought them prosperity. Their last act will be to burn the economy before they die.”

When you consider that 75% of 18-24’s voted to remain, it is easy for us to scapegoat a generation that overwhelmingly voted in favour of leaving the EU (61%), and they did so to the tune of over 80% turnout. This was supposed to be our vote. Of course, the entire electorate is entitled to vote, but we had and continue to have so much more at stake. It was paramount that we got out the vote and rallied the disengaged youth, but we didn’t. 36% turnout in 18-24’s. That is 36% to their 83%.

In the harsh light of a post-Brexit UK, we only have ourselves to blame. We shot our collective self in the foot. We fucked up. Whichever way you wish to phrase it, and as much the baby-boom generation have reaped the benefits of the EU and then cast it aside before we could too, we have to share the responsibility for this. Ultimately, had we achieved 83% turnout also, we would have gotten our own way. This is just the latest example of youth apathy and carelessness coming back to bite us.

Secondly, there have been numerous calls (mainly from leave supporters) for us to accept the outcome, and unite as a nation behind the Brexit decision. I can’t help but feel that this is against the very nature of both politics and democracy. When a government is elected following a general election, do the public and the political elite alike suddenly rally behind them and stop holding them to account? No. That would be ridiculous. It is our right to protest and fight for our cause. This fight should not and will not be fought with weaponry and machines, as Nigel Farage despicably suggested he would, had his side lost. Moreover, this fight should be funded by intellectual debate, ideals and principle, something much of the campaign was not. Further still, I would question the idea that Brexiteers would graciously accept defeat had we voted to remain. UKIP and Eurosceptics would resume in fighting for their cause and they would be entitled to do so.

Of course, referendums and elections are different in many ways, but the right of citizens to disagree with a result and continue to fight for what they believe in is exactly the same. Might I just mention, that in the piece I am not calling for a second referendum or a snap-general election, but I understand why people are and it is important to note that we still might not leave the European Union, there is a lot of contingency still to come. Say what you will about ‘poor losers’, but there are multiple reasons as to why the leave campaign has won the battle and not the war, and what is presented below are just a few of them.

  • In May, Nigel Farage said that: “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.” – Whether that means a second referendum, political maneuvering by elected officials, or a violent uprising (as Farage alluded to in his now infamous comment about victory without a single shot being fired), you decide. By Farage’s standard, this isn’t over yet.
  • Surveys have suggested that up to 1.1 million Brexit voters already regret their decision. If they were to had voted to remain in the EU, Remain would have won. – The gravity of the referendum was not known by many voters, and less than a week later, the electorate favours remaining. If the situation gets worse for the UK over the coming months, the anti-Brexit movement might gain momentum and a reassessment may be required.
  • The lies and deception of the Leave campaign have already begun to be exposed. – £350m a week more for the NHS? Yeah okay. Boris and Gove want to privatise the NHS, not better fund it with the tax-payer’s money.
  • There is no plan in place. How could they fail to create a contingency plan? Boris and Gove have been careless and irresponsible with the way they have conducted themselves both during the campaign and after it.
  • David Cameron’s power play. By not invoking Article 50 on Friday morning, our PM has thrown a massive spanner into the works. So much could happen between now and October, and even further past that. There could be a second referendum and there could be a snap-general election, in which parties could run on an ‘in’ or ‘out’ platform. Nothing in set in stone yet.
  • Whether you like it or not, the referendum was only advisory. – There may well be a vote in the House of Commons and MPs are perfectly within their right to vote against leaving. We live in a representative democracy and they are tasked with doing what is best for our country. Even if you disagree with them, it is their prerogative.

There is a lot of uncertainty coming our way in the next few months and we need to prepare ourselves accordingly, but the young cannot place the blame solely on the shoulders of the old and it is essential that we learn from the mistakes that we, as a generation, have made in this referendum and in past general elections.

And to those calling for others to accept the decision of the referendum and move on, respectfully, no. You can’t fix deep political divides that easily and it isn’t about uniting as a nation. When are we ever united as a nation? We aren’t.

If you have a cause that you truly believe in, then fight for it. Fight like hell for it, you not only have a right to do so, some might argue that it is your duty. That’s how society progresses and leaving the European Union isn’t going forward, it’s going backwards.

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