We are probably fed up with hearing about Brexit by now and almost all viewpoints have been covered by the media. But listening to young people debate about it live and in person gives this matter a whole other dimension. The topic opens up to several other political issues connected to it. Over the last few days, I have witnessed different fears, concerns and hopes of students and politically interested young people and would like to give an insight into their worlds.
The first event I visited was ‘Brexit Crisis: What Next?’ hosted by the University of Notre Dame in London. It featured Oliver Patel, Institute Manager and Research Associate at the University College London European Institute, whose analysis on Brexit has been featured on BBC News, CNN, The Guardian and The Financial Times.
Patel elaborated on the current state of the Brexit negotiations, the delicate relationship with Ireland and the possible outcomes of Brexit. To him, the most likely outcome is the long extension of the process, after that, new elections would also be quite likely.
Patel dubbed Brexit ‘the most complicated divorce ever’ and started his debate with the intimidating question of whether anyone in the room could confidently say that they completely understood Brexit. Even in a room full of highly educated university students, not one hand was raised. This is the perfect exemplification for the confusion of the nation, worsened by the lengthy debates that are currently impairing the political spirit.
The student’s questions following Patel’s presentation were diverse, but overall considered prospects that could soften Brexit. One student asked if the UK could adopt a Norwegian-system in dealing with the EU, which would mean a close connection without an actual membership. Another wondered whether the UK could return to the EU after a few years, or if it would be plausible for the Brexiters to just give up on their hard-Brexit. The questions seemed almost desperate for a solution, with the students showing frustration over the complex and detrimental process that Brexit has become.
According to Patel, and he almost apologized for saying this, the Brexit debates are still ‘in a state of infancy’ and could easily take another few years to finalize. When Patel talked about the confusing and almost comical situation, the listeners laughed. But the laughter quickly subsided. The current political state is more serious than we young people would wish it to be. It spells serious consequences for the whole population, not only for the education sector or for us as students.
It would be misleading to say that there were no questions left after the event, but Patel managed to bring a sense of structure into the complicated world of Brexit. Nevertheless, after he spoke, the students immediately started talking to each other about how complex the situation is and that they are, to an extent, tired of the confusion Brexit has caused.
The second event I visited in London was a ‘Democracy Café‘, supported by the charity ‘My Life my Say’ and the German political foundation ‘Friedrich Ebert Stiftung’. The event circulated around German-British relations in light of Brexit and featured many participants from the UK, Germany and from other parts of the world.
The discussions dealt with topics such as young people in politics, political education in the modern world, and Brexit’s impact on the general atmosphere in the UK. The event gave us the opportunity to compare global matters and the different approaches of our home countries. This, as one example, led us to talk about the education systems and their weaknesses. We agreed that they should be modernized to enhance political participation of young people and found that the errors we see are often global and should be addressed by the general public.
Many participants at the events had chosen to study abroad or to do an internship in the UK. My generation strives to explore the world around it and to educate themselves. Even though the event brought us all together in the spirit of European unity, the fear that these possibilities could be taken away from us loomed over the discussion. Especially, as we came to the conclusion of how enriching our experiences abroad had been for us.
Some people, nevertheless, only realized at the event just how far-reaching the consequences of Brexit could be. When asked how it will affect her personally, a student from Germany answered ‘not really’ but was quickly convinced of the opposite. Understandably, this was quite difficult to accept. She was shocked by the effects on the economy, the general mindset of people, the EU’s politics and her possibilities inside the UK in the future. However, politics should never be seen from an isolated perspective.
But overall, the students present were highly interested in politics and making themselves heard. We agreed on the need for more youth representation in government and discussed environmental protection. While doing so, we kept in mind the differences between the represented countries’ policies and circumstances. This encouraged everyone who was frustrated by the Brexit discussions, indicating that there will be many different topics that will bring young people together in the future.
It also made us understand that we should look at political topics from different perspectives. It is crucial to have open discussions about politics at every age and the events gave us the possibilities to do so, leading the way to an inclusive, modern and international future.