‘Worst situation you can ever be in’: What Gen Z thinks of Brexit

Young Europeans reflect on the UK’s historic departure from the European Union.

Emmanuel Onapa says Brexit has unleashed an undercurrent of racism in the UK [Courtesy: Emmanuel Onapa]

The United Kingdom has started the new year working on its new relationship with the European Union, after leaving the bloc’s political and economic orbit at the end of 2020.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the move, claiming Brexit would allow the UK to take back control of its “laws and destiny”.

But many young people in the UK and across Europe were left dismayed by the shift, which will have profound consequences for the rules governing how people live, work and travel between the country and the continent.

More than 70 percent of those below the age of 25 across the UK voted Remain in the UK’s June 2016 EU referendum, according to opinion polls. However, overall 52 percent of voters opted to quit the bloc.

Four and a half years on, and following months of intense political drama, Al Jazeera spoke to young Britons and Europeans about their feelings on Brexit:

‘There has been a rise in hate – it’s embedded through Brexit culture’

Emmanuel Onapa, 21, British in London, UK:

I was quite shocked by Brexit, but nevertheless I wasn’t that surprised because I know how immigrants were demonised and made to be something that they weren’t. It couldn’t be further from the truth. With all the lies that went around during the campaign and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was a kind of breach of democracy. But now Brexit is the worst situation you can ever be in.

During a pandemic, you shouldn’t be leaving the EU. It’s crucial that we emphasise on building alliances and working together. I think there has also been a rise in hate –  it’s embedded through Brexit culture.

There’s been an issue with European migrants coming to the country to work. How will this affect Black and brown people in Britain? Brexit supporters feel like they are claiming back what’s theirs. It’s going back to the times of Britain as a colonial power.

‘I can’t see any positives’

Kimi Chaddah, 18, British in Manchester, UK:

The Brexit vote was dispiriting. I didn’t have the chance to vote in it. It felt like something had been decided for us that we didn’t want and had no say in.

The mood of the country hasn’t been the same since. It’s all become a lot more polarised. It feels like we’re becoming a lot more introspective, hiding ourselves away, when we should be discovering more.

British people living in Brussels who oppose Brexit hold a candlelit vigil outside the British embassy as the transition period comes to an end in Brussels, Belgium December 31, 2020 [Johanna Geron/Reuters]

The ability to engage with different cultures is a lot more complicated, and now you need visas. I go to Spain every year normally and Europe is the place we feel most connected with.

But I am more worried about the impact it’s had in terms of unleashing racism and people’s attitudes that stresses me out more. Obviously, the campaign was based on lies and hatred towards people from different countries.

I can’t see any positives. At the moment, it looks like there’s going to be a lot of internal conflict. It looks like a fearful few years ahead.

‘People of my age where I live didn’t vote for this’

[Courtesy: Caitlin M Kearns]

Caitlin M Kearns, 23, Irish in Belfast, Northern Ireland:

The thing about Northern Ireland is that we’re part of the UK but we’re in the same landmass as the Republic of Ireland, which will stay part of the EU. It’s a very strange situation, we’re kind of in a no man’s land. It’s a very difficult relationship.

We didn’t vote to leave the EU as a bloc. Brexit is something I’m very against, I voted Remain. I work in theatre and the arts and it does scare me that I might not be able to travel to places for work. It’s just another barrier to me living and working in Europe. I think it’s a huge shame.

People of my age where I live didn’t vote for this, we didn’t ask for this and we didn’t want it yet it’s being thrust upon us. It’s a tumultuous and scary time.

‘Brexit poses the question, what will Europe represent today?’

[Courtesy: Eloise]

Eloise, 18, French in Dunkirk, France:

There is a dysfunction in Europe behind all of this. I think it’s sad that a large, important country like England has found itself on the margin, and hasn’t realised all the good resolutions Europe could offer.

I know for us, on a local level, there will be fewer jobs and less business. For me, England is as close as Paris. It’s the port right next to us.

The end of the Erasmus course (an EU student exchange programme) is terrible. I wanted to go to the UK for internships, and now it’s a mess.

But Brexit poses the question, what will Europe represent today? It’s possible that England could be more ambitious than the EU in terms of things like ecology. I think we are better working together, but it could be a moment to change the system. It’s a moment to ask, what is Europe for Europeans?

‘I think we’ve got a brighter future because of Brexit’

[Courtesy: Owen Reed]

Owen Reed, 21, British in Bedworth, UK:

I’m ecstatic with Brexit. I think it’s better for our democracy if we elect people who make the laws and I think more accountability for people making our laws is obviously a good thing.

I also think there’s a lot of industries that have been conned over the last years because of Brexit, like the fishing industry. A lot of legislation is unnecessary and small and medium businesses can’t keep up with the paperwork. I think they will thrive once we start unpicking that.

As a young person, I would like to open up my own business in the future. Now that we’ve left the EU I think there will be better free trade agreements – such as those in Japan. I’m excited for the opportunities. I think we’ve got a brighter future because of Brexit. We’ve got the big wide world out there. Now we can get out of the EU’s orbit and do things for ourselves.

‘It’s heartbreaking really’

[Courtesy: Sinead McCausland]

Sinead McCausland, 23, British in Paris, France:

When the Brexit vote happened in 2016, I was still in university. There were two years before I graduated. But I knew because of that I wanted to experience living in Europe before that right was taken away. That’s why I moved here. I never intended to stay here long-term. But I completely fell in love with it and didn’t really want to leave.

But I think so many peoples’ lives will be changed because of Brexit. I think it’s horrible and a mistake. For young people, many don’t even know what’s being taken away from them before they’ve had the chance to live in Europe. It’s being taken away by people who have had their whole life to do that. I think that’s what upsets me the most.

So many of my French friends who wanted to move to London are saying they won’t bother because it’s too difficult. It’s heartbreaking really.

Johnson gives a thumbs up after signing the Brexit trade deal with the EU at 10 Downing Street in London, UK on December 30, 2020 [File: Leon Neal/Pool via Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera