Meet The Young Women Who Voted For Brexit
The Debrief: We’ve heard a lot from young people who voted to stay in the EU, now we hear from millennials who voted out and backed Brexit
The European Referendum and subsequent vote to leave the European Union has perhaps been on of the most divisive political events in the last decade. There’s no mistaking it, we are currently living through what will eventually become the sort of history that people learn about from text books.
During the campaign much was made of the generational divide over ‘Brexit’. A word which was once only ever uttered in circles of political hacks and nerds or discussed amongst staunch eurosceptics in Westminster backrooms had suddenly become an unstoppable force dividing friends and families.
Polling data from YouGov has found that 75% of 18-24 year olds voted to remain in the European Union, the highest remain vote of any generation. The country voted to leave, overall, with 52% of those who turned out to vote opting out. If you look at other polls they confirm the idea that young people are, on the whole, less in favour of leaving the EU than other generations.
However, what we have learned that hard way in recent years is that we can’t rely on polls to give us a full picture of people’s attitudes and behaviour. A good example of this was the voter turnout data being circulated on social media after the vote for Brexit from @SkyData which suggested that only 36% of 18-24 year olds turned out to vote. It was not a proper poll but a projection which, perhaps wrongly, lead people to conclude that if more of the ‘yoof’ had bothered to turn up remain would have won. The prevailing sense was that ‘all millennials’ are pro European.
However, it has since transpired that turnout for the 18-24s was more likely to be around 70%. Whatever the accurate figure is as to exactly what percentage of our younger generations voted to remain, one thing is for sure – some voted out. If it is true that 75% of 18-24 year olds voted to remain then what does it feel like to be in the minority – to be one of the 35% who voted out? What does it feel like to know that you voted for Brexit when many of your friends are expressing their sadness and disappointment at the result on social media? How does reading headlines about the betrayal of a generation make you feel? What do you do when you see a Facebook status which reads ‘Delete me if you voted leave’? Do the suggestions that leave voters condoned Nigel Farage’s xenophobic and racist ‘breaking point’ poster frustrate you?
The inevitable flaw of this referendum was that there were only two possible outcomes: staying in the EU or leaving the EU. Voting to remain didn’t necessarily signal an endorsement of the status quo, just as voting to leave the EU didn’t necessarily mean you support Nigel Farage or think Boris Johnson uses just the right number of syllables per sentence. The reality is that this was a far more complicated decision that those two tick boxes, neatly outlined in black and white on the ballot paper allowed for us all to express.
We’ve heard a lot from young people who wanted to stay in the EU, but little from those who opted out.
Lily* is 23. She has always lived in the South East and has just qualified as a vet
For her the decision to vote leave wasn’t an easy one, ‘it was a really close decision and I wasn't 100% that I wanted to leave because I could see pros and cons for both arguments.’
‘The problem is nobody is a 100% on anything’ she says, ‘people see pros and cons on either side. But I don't really know how else you ask people a question like this or have a referendum. I think you see extreme examples in the press or on social media - I think social media has been really unhelpful actually.’
What swayed her decision? ‘One of the big things for me was, I think, bureaucracy. In general, I think it’s a bad thing. You end up spending so much money on it and it's a waste of time. The EU is a big example of bureaucracy - they move offices between Brussels and Strasbourg for example.’ She says she also worries about the future of the European Union, ‘countries like Italy Greece and Portugal - their economies have crashed and they don't seem to have recovered brilliantly.’
How does she want Brexit to play out? ‘I don't think we should lose our ties with the EU or lose our alliances - at university I studied veterinary science with people from Europe and it was brilliant. I think it's great that they can come and study here and work here and I don't want that to stop. It would be silly to kick people out.’
‘I've come from a rural background - this has really split the agricultural world apart. The EU has really damaged our agricultural industries because we now rely on subsidies. I think farmers will suffer to to begin with but I hope this will be a kick up the backside for people to start buying British. Half of the farmers I know voted in, half voted out. people from arable areas were pro EU but dairy farmers wanted out. So much depends on what you farm. For me personally, I also love the countryside and I’m watching it being built on at a rate of knots.’
How does she feel about being classified as an out voter when her reasons for voting to leave were so specific? ‘The problem’ she tells me is that ‘there’s a small minority of the out voters who are very loud and very unpleasant and they’re the ones who seem to have done the speaking on this. A lot of people I know believe in controlled immigration but they don't want to get rid of it completely. The small minority - who I would call thugs to be honest - who have voted on immigration…I think they've tarnished the entire campaign.’
How have people reacted to her when she tells them she voted to leave? ‘I’m not going to lie…the first few days after the referendum’ she pauses, ‘I have a few issues with anxiety anyway – I almost didn’t want to get out of bed. My closest friends were on Facebook saying things like “everyone who's voted leave has ruined my future”, a family friend accused everyone who wanted to leave of being xenophobic and racists. When I saw that I just thought how can I face them?? I went down to speak to my mum and said I don't want to see anyone now. What happens if people have had a few drinks, this comes up and it gets nasty?’ Is she worried about the level of division when it comes to people’s voting preference? ‘Put it this way: I've just finished my degree, just done my exams - I should be out celebrating. I really hope these divisions will be resolved and I think it's ridiculous if they aren't’ she says, ‘you just can't carry on with one half of the country hating the other. You can't judge people on that one decision. There are more important things to fall out with people over.’
Elrika is 20 years old. She grew up in West London and studies Physics at university in Leeds.
Her parents are not UKIP supporters, however she is. She was able to vote for the first time in last year’s general election and she voted UKIP. She says that before this she ‘unofficially supported the Conservative party.’ When it came to the referendum she says her parents voted leave on her behalf – ‘my parents follow what I follow – I told them to and they did.’
What was it that made her decide to vote UKIP at the general election? ‘Interestingly it wasn’t the EU which made me vote for UKIP, it was their domestic policies – I agreed with much of what they proposed in their general election manifesto last year.’ Which ones in particular I ask? ‘Education as a broad, general issue. They’re the only party committed to bringing back the tripartite system in this country.’ (that’s grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary moderns).
Was she surprised by the outcome of the referendum? ‘I never expected it’ she says, ‘I didn’t expect the results let alone what came afterwards. I just didn’t think that Britain would vote to leave the EU – especially with the younger generations there was a lot of talk about them being pro Europe. And yet it was the biggest turnout in history so I guess this turnout tapped into the feeling of disaffection.’
Why did she vote leave? ‘In general there were three main reasons’ she tells me, ‘the main one was immigration because I do think we need to control our borders into this country via a points based system.’ What would immigration look like with an extended points based system I ask her? ‘I don’t think its about where you come from I think its about whether you have the right skills. The crucial thing is we don’t have control over who comes from the EU – its more about the kind of people that are coming in to this country’ she says.
I tell her that if you look at the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics you’ll see that the most popular country which people migrated to Britain from in 2013 was actually China. 46,000 people came from the country that year. What does she make of that? What skills in particular does she think we need more of? ‘As far as I’m aware we need more engineering and IT – the tech industries – the up and coming industries – they need people who have the relevant skills to work in these industries. Also the care industry and the NHS – those who are able to contribute to Britain.’
‘I think immigration is crucial and necessary and nobody is calling for the borders to be closed – its not about immigration per se but controlling immigration’ she says.
Immigration aside, what are the other reasons why Elrika wanted Britain out of Europe? ‘Sovereignty and democracy’ she says. ‘I do believe in the future of Britain and I do think that we should be more globalist and engage in free trade with other countries not just limit ourselves to the European Union.’
Is the current level of uncertainty troubling her? ‘I welcome uncertainty because there may be opportunities in the future which may come about because of Brexit’ she says. ‘It’s so hard to predict right now, I don’t think it helps that some young remainers who feel uneasy about their prospects reaffirm their own anxiety over Brexit by thinking things are going to get worse. This country has been through worse – two world wars, the collapse of the empire – we’ll get through this. I welcome uncertainty because things may get worse but I do think it will get better.’
She tells me she hopes to take her studies to a post graduate level. As a science student does she worry about the impact this will have on her personally? ‘I’m still in my undergraduate year…we have research councils so I think it should be ok, I don’t think we are going to lose that. Its really hard for me to predict what’s going to happen for me in the next few years let alone the rest of the country. I think the thing is to be hopeful about the future.’
Finally, in the wake of the results has she experienced any negativity? ‘Well, well, well, she says, the overly political types who are very strongly remain tend to be on the left and they come out with vile and personal attacks – its indicative of a wider sentiment that you don’t have the ‘right’ opinion. You are vilified as a racist. Because of my strong opinion some people are very…’ she pauses before concluding ‘they do not like strong opinions that they do not also share.’
Katie, also in her twenties, grew up in Manchester. She has lived in Lincolnshire and Birmingham, but is now living and working in Manchester. She too supports UKIP and voted to leave the EU. She originally trained as a hairdresser but now works as a business analyst.
For her this was primarily about bureaucracy as well as ‘trade, control of borders and sovereignty’. She tells me ‘I’ve always seen the European union as a dictatorship of private finance, there is no sense of democracy about it and I think one of our fundamental British values is democracy – being able to write the laws which govern British lives.’
Has her leave vote caused any tension? ‘One of my sisters voted to remain and she’s angry – we aren’t speaking. She felt it was a racist campaign. She feels like it could have been run on better points than border control and immigration.’
Overall she says she’s ‘delighted’ by the result of the referendum but won’t ‘be happy until we have article 50 triggered and leave’.
When did she become so passionately Eurosceptic? ‘I was working for a sales and marketing company which meant I was out on the road a lot – we would go out, knock on doors and pitch the project. Then I was in an accident where I broke my leg, I had a lot of time free. I looked into politics a lot more – I did a lot of research and became a staunch Eurosceptic.’
What does she think of the uncertainty about our current political leadership and detail about how Brexit will actually play out? ‘It doesn’t worry me’ she says, ‘I don’t see any uncertainty – I believe that we will get a tariff free trade agreement and I think we are going to get a model which is somewhere between the Swiss and the Norwegian model.’
‘I don’t think there is any uncertainty here, I really think things are going to be for the best – I don’t see any post apocalyptic Brexit bad times coming – I think there has been a huge overreaction from the remain camp. There always has to be a tiny bit of chaos with change.’
How does the talk of our country being split over the referendum make her feel? ‘It does concern me that it seems to have become so divisive – British politics seems more divided and aggressive than it was before the referendum result.’
And what about how leaving the EU could affect her personally? Does that concern her? ‘I’ve never really looked at it in terms of how it will affect me to be honest’ she says. ‘I see it in terms of how it will affect everyone. I will start to see a lot of my friends better off and I will see my own wages rise. More school places when I do have children. I think us spending the money we sent to the EU at home will mean the NHS will have more – I hope I won’t have to wait as long for a doctors’ appointment.’
In terms of her work? ‘A lot of the companies that we work with actually got a lot of funding from the EU so it may hurt the business to start with but without the EU regulation I think we’ll be able to trade more freely. It might be more difficult for a short period while the uncertainty is still in the air while negotiations take place because companies aren’t sure of the implications – it may affect our business development – but to ensure that freedom and democracy is insured I think that’s a small price to pay – people have fought and died for this – short term loses for long term gains.’
*some names have been changed
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