EVERY time that I think I’m over Brexit, I realise that I’m really, *really* not. It’s been over two years: I’m still deeply angry. I’m angry that politicians sold false promises for their own political gain (and that the British people fell for them), I’m angry that Brexit deal negotiations have devolved into utter shambles. But more than anything, I’m angry at how bloody unfair Brexit will be for our generation, especially when so few of us voted for it in the first place. It leaves a taste in my mouth so bitter that all the “adequate food” in the world couldn’t get rid of it.
But I know it’s not just me. Other people are angry too. 700,000 angry people in fact felt strongly enough to take to the streets in the People’s Vote march, and fight for a second referendum (never mind the 48% that never wanted to leave in the first place). The march was part of the wider People’s Vote movement, which has particularly sought to mobilise the support of students and young voters in recent months. But is this movement useful? Or is it just remoaners at their bitter worst?
The selection of this demographic to spearhead the campaign should come as no surprise. Of the voters that went to the ballot box in 2016, 73% of under 24-year-olds and 85% of students voted to remain in the EU. And this excludes anyone currently under the age of 20, who didn’t get a say at all in the matter.
The cruel irony, as Chuka Ummuna explained during the Students for A People’s Vote Roadshow here at the University of Exeter earlier this month, is that Brexit will “impact on you more than any other group”. Speaking of the movement, he appealed to his audience that “if we can’t get you involved in this campaign, we may as well pack up and go home”. This does raise an important point- ultimately if our generation doesn’t fight for a People’s Vote, then who will? So perhaps it’s understandable that young people are angry. Even so, is the People’s Vote movement justified in its demands? In my opinion, yes, it is.
What needs to be understood is that a people’s vote is not a second EU referendum. The crux of the question we’re facing has changed immeasurably over the past two years. We are no longer asking ‘shall we exit the EU’, but rather ‘how shall we manage leaving the EU’. Another referendum would not be a gratuitous exercise for remainers, but a necessary act of democracy to reach a consensus pertaining to a different question. And secondly, we cannot overlook the gravity of the matter. Britain is divided on quite a few subjects at the moment, but I think there are two things that have become unanimously clear over the last two years:
1) The Great British Bake Off is just not as good now that it’s on Channel 4, and 2) Brexit will affect every area of politics, and every aspect of our lives. It is the biggest issue to affect this country since the Second World War (Brexit that is, not Great British Bake Off). This is an exceptional matter. And unlike a general election, the end product will be entirely irreversible. Any Brexit strategy therefore demands a clear and strong mandate.
This is what protesters are taking to the streets for – to get their voices heard.
Furthermore, the People’s Vote campaign is serving a broader purpose amongst our generation, beyond its mission, and regardless of whether it ultimately achieves its demands. Many young people are angry. It is easy for anger to turn to political disillusion and apathy. And yet the movement is rechannelling that energy into productive political engagement, and right now, I think that is incredibly important.
So perhaps that’s something: a scrap of hope that can be salvaged from what otherwise seems a bleak political landscape to many. Who can say if the movement will be successful in initiating a vote on the final terms of Brexit? After all, the British government hardly has a strong track-record for being swayed by mass protest, or for listening to the voices of younger generations in this country. But the only certainty in British politics since the referendum has been its unpredictability.