You needed only to look at the headlines to realise things had not gone to plan. They were damning; Time Magazine reported ‘The Brexit vote is a victory for Trumpism the world over’; The Economist called the split a ‘senseless, self-inflicted blow,’ and ‘reckless’ was David Cameron for deciding to ask the people in a vote. ‘The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it,’ said a stunned Washington Post, following up the panic with ‘Britain just killed globalisation as we know it.’ As for the Guardian, let’s just say it’s in a bad place right now.
When the BBC’s live vote count told me the Leave vote was in front, I madly clicked ‘refresh’. Surely not, I thought, staring bewildered at my smartphone’s screen. The polls, the press, the politicians, the experts, had all said Remain was inevitable. Instead, the votes had been tensely even, like the opening games of a tight tennis match, until Leave broke serve and went 20 000 votes ahead. Picture thousands of young people, including Australians, clicking ‘refresh’ in despair. Now half a million votes ahead. It was happening.
When Sky and BBC news called it for Leave, shock took hold – the kind that only comes when something happens that is utterly unexpected, and the establishment is in denial. For Remain voters and the rest of the EU, such denial was the first stage of grief.
The second stage, anger, is well and truly in swing. The headlines from the media are just a taster of the rage being fired through our news channels. The educated elites who unquestionably dominate media and politics scream ‘There’s been a mistake!’ Tusk, Juncker, Merkel and Hollande are all furious.
A positive headline on this democratic decision is rare. Instead, they’re begging for the third stage: bargaining. Many are desperate to pull the Brexit-shaped knife out of the EU, and stick it in democracy. A petition calling for a second referendum has, at the time of writing, 3.2 million signatures. News outlets run stories of ‘Bregret,’ insisting that the Leave voters are both a) ignorant of what they’ve done and b) suffering from buyers’ remorse. The latest report from General Sturgeon is that she may have the power to block the Brexit, and she would be prepared to use it on the grounds of responding to Scotland’s Remain vote. The 75% of young Remain voters, aged 18-24, are seething.
‘We are Europeans, we’re citizens of the world,’ insisted an angry young girl in a Guardian video that captured the reactions of young Remain voters. ‘A 90 year old has more of a say in the rest of our lives than we do,’ she said in disgust. Well, no they don’t – everyone has one vote, that’s how democracy works.
However, the idea that an older, backward generation has trumped the wishes of the forward-thinking young is gaining traction as one of Brexit’s greatest injustices. ‘The younger generation in the UK has been sacrificed all because of distortion of facts and consequences. Somehow this result must be overturned,’ said Peter Sutherland, a United Nations Special Representative for International Migration.
When all the bargaining fails, the young will realise they are bound by this democratic outcome and it will usher in the fourth stage of grief: depression. As a student in the 18-24 age bracket, I can tell you that the feeling of depression is being echoed by millennials in Australia. Here’s why.
Firstly, Brexit has rejected a future that involved supranational government. The young and educated see themselves as ‘citizens of the world’ instead of citizens of a nation. They think the world’s problems are so large, only international cooperation and sharing of resources across borders, can fix them. As Merkel said after the result, ‘…current problems are too big to be managed by individual states alone.’ But the EU couldn’t manage them either – Greece’s economy and the migrant crisis come to mind.
As much as the young fear a retreat from the world, they fear populism, nationalism, racism and xenophobia more. They believed the campaign against the EU stemmed from those things; the fact that immigration was the biggest issue and watching Nigel Farage claim victory, only convinced them further. While it’s unlikely that the 17 million who voted Leave are all narrow-minded raging racists, the young and educated really believe people got it wrong. They believe the masses didn’t understand the complexities of the debate, and had been conned.
However, the truth is, voters turned out in exceptionally high numbers to choose between national democracy and supranational government. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, made this choice clear in May, saying ‘Too many politicians are listening exclusively to their national opinion. And if you are listening to your national opinion you are not developing what should be a common European sense and a feeling of the need to put together efforts.’
In response, older voters turned out in far greater numbers than younger voters, exercised their ‘national opinion’ while they still could, and guided their nation to sovereignty.
The vote for democracy had immigration at its core, not because of xenophobia, but because it was the greatest manifestation of Britain’s lost control. Merkel told Cameron that the condition of EU membership was accepting free movement, therefore paper-thin borders, and a weakened national democracy.
The Ancient Greeks said that the size of a city state should be visible from the state’s highest point; you could see Athens from the acropolis. Supranational governments hardly see anyone, so large is their reach. They are too far above ordinary people to be properly accountable, and become a haven for the elites who’ve just suffered the biggest revolt of the century.
The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. If the young can learn to value the nation state, celebrate sovereignty and respect democracy, independent Britain has a chance. The pressure of independence will force innovation – for all the cries of ‘killing globalisation’ and xenophobia, Britain simply can’t afford to be inward-looking.
Without the EU to blame, Britain is entirely accountable for its success. Young people scream of their lost future, but the older voters’ decision ensures they’ve still got one – a democratic future. Older voters had seen the Remain case on display for 40 years and backed Brexit anyway – the common sense of the common man overturned the wisdom of the experts.
The future is riskier, but brighter. As one surprised Leave voter remarked the morning of the result, ‘We’ve just got to hold our nerve now.’ Take note, young people. Hold it you must.
Catherine Priestly is managing editor of Mon Droit
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