Brexit Apocalypse? Let’s try to think about it first

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51.9% vs 48.1%…

I think the last time a number struck me  so viscerally, so historically, was when Usain Bolt finished his 100m world record time of 9.58 seconds.  What a moment.  The feeling of watching history being made is something I will never forget.

The results of the UK referendum will no doubt be burned into everyone’s mind for the rest of their lives.

Interspersed through this article will be some fun pictures of what I’ve been getting up to in Heidelberg in June.  I would have loved for instance, to talk about the charity football tournament I organised with some friends, which attracted over 16 5-a-side teams and spectators, so over 100 people and helped raise over 800 euros for charity.  Instead I’ll just stick the weblink here:

http://erasmusfussball.wix.com/alternativeeuro16

I don’t think I need to emphasise how special it is to be a part of Europe and to experience this fully in an Erasmus year.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: it’s been the best year of my life.

Francophones 3rd place.jpg

The happiest 3rd team finished in 3rd place – though some Brexit jokes were made along the way…

Before I continue with this article, I ought to make it clear that as it is a university blog article, it’s from the viewpoint of a university student.  It also rests upon two assumptions.  Whether or not you accept them is up to you, but I ask patience before you scream me down in the anger and rage that so permeated Facebook, Twitter and the real world of conversations on the morning of the 24th June.

Because there was molten anger and doomsday-like sadness from those who were/are for Remain, which I want to address.  But even if you voted leave, perhaps have a look too, because as I will argue here, the consequences are potentially even more significant (or worse) for you.

Here are the two assumptions:

  1. Brexit will negatively affect our society politically, economically and socially, whether it be for 5, 10, 20 years or more.
  2. Young, university-educated people will be the most capable to deal with the results of Brexit.

When I woke up on the morning of the 24th June, I couldn’t believe what I saw.  I had even dreamt of a Brexit scenario the day before, which featured many disturbing things, most notably Nigel Farage entering No.10…but thankfully it was a dream back then.

The more I woke up on the 24th, the clearer it became that this was, unfortunately, no dream.  The night before I had gone to sleep worried, but ultimately okay as things had been looking positive for the Remain campaign.

So I got up, showered, ate some breakfast and then hit the library, determined to work away the stress and to try to forget what had happened for the time being.  Perhaps later I could find some way make sense of it all in my emotionally charged brain.

By 11.30am, after a few hours work, it became clear that I wasn’t working very well.   I kept flicking on to Facebook to reply to condolence messages from my erstwhile European friends and to look at the angry posts and such like…

Happy organisers

The one on the left is half-German, half Welsh – we could also remember that one isn’t simply British or not…

And I really didn’t want to feel sad anymore, so I decided to try to think practically, even selfishly about what the consequences were for me and other people like me, who seemed so despairing and angry.

And considering I suspect that things are going to be difficult for the next 10-20 years at least, I quite unbelievably found myself feeling positive for the situation of educated young people – compared to everyone else.

Let me explain why now – I’m not saying we students are in a good situation, but rather that we have better prospects than the rest of the UK.

Without getting apocalyptic (i.e. war), let’s assume things get very bad economically in the UK.  As students, we may be burdened by tuition fees, but we don’t have the same ties to the UK as everyone else.  We don’t have mortgages for one thing and we have the ability to adapt to new environments better than any other demographic in the UK.  So if it becomes terrible, remember that you can leave the UK – the world has a hunger for young, educated and, above all, determined people.  Perhaps it won’t be as easy to study and work in Europe, but it’s hardly as if the borders will be completely shut.  You’re not trapped in a world of despair when you really think about it.  Did you really think you were 100% going to spend the rest of your life in the UK anyway?  We may be ‘Great Britain’, but let’s get real.

Let’s compare:

– Students typically voted remain and keep what they saw as a practical relationship, if imperfect relationship with the rest of Europe.  We probably feel more a part of Europe than any other demographic in the UK.

– Those who wanted to leave were determined to change ‘their’ country.  They obviously want to stay in the UK and come what may, they will probably have to.  Apparently the voters who opted for Brexit are  typically older than those who voted remain.

Without being ageist, older tends to mean more status quo – they’re less likely to be able to move if things turn bad in the UK.  Students are clearly the most adaptable people in this scenario.

Let’s also not forget the argument that the EU referendum was the result of the deep frustration of the working class that has felt alienated by British politics for a long time.[1]  And even then it was still only 52% for leaving the EU.  Politics is a whirlwind and whilst many politicians have said that there is no turning back from Brexit, let’s not forget that whilst the country is ‘divided’, there is also a lot of anti-establishment feeling at play, as well as anti-EU anger.  I simply don’t buy into the rhetoric that British people who voted to leave are ‘racist’, ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’ – that’s just not on.

Any and every general election in the last decades has meant little change to a lot of people who feel very hard done by.  It is commendably that people in this country have in modern times always had the right to vote against the government in power.  But they have also never had the chance to vote against the system of government in power – until now.  Instead of being able to take a direct shot at the system of governance in this country however, they’ve only been able to fire indirectly via a vote against the EU.

As the campaigns wore on, and every figure of authority insisted on how terrible Brexit would be, is it any wonder that people rejected the figures of authority, from whom they could only choose between previously?  Rather than condemning the decision to leave, we must try to understand it.  To do otherwise would be to directly subscribe to labels such as ‘stupid’ and ‘ignorant’ ourselves.

Still feeling trapped in a well of despair?

Okay, well let’s get historical and really selfish from the point of students – we have less to lose.  If my arguments above haven’t made enough of an impact, perhaps money will.  Historically, seismic economic shifts, most notably recessions, create mass job losses – and this could well happen to the UK.  The jobs that will be lost will typically hit people who voted for Brexit more, as they are most likely to have jobs that are labelled as ‘less-skilled’.  Sure, people in the city of London will lose their jobs too, but they’re invariably much better off anyway and they can always find another city, another hive of activity to thrive in.  I don’t mean to be blasé about people losing their jobs, but it does appear that people who opted for Brexit are more at risk, due to their social background.

I’m so proud to be a student, and moreover a student at Durham University, where I learn so much each day.  I also feel incredibly privileged to be doing an Erasmus year at Heidelberg University right now.  Us students however are perhaps guilty of feeling entitled to everything the world has to offer at times.  I can’t imagine not being able to do an Erasmus year – but this is more privilege than a right in my book.  I also can’t imagine what it would be like to live in poor area of the UK, doing a job I hate and feeling powerless at a succession of governments who say they will multiple things to help, after which they time after time renege on their promises.  Then along comes another government and the cycle begins again.  So whilst we students may feel distraught now, I wonder if we forget the angst and emotions of the rest of the UK.  I still think the decision that 52% of us (who voted) made was wrong and will be painfully felt, but students haven’t experienced the world as they have and won’t experience the highly probable negative consequences in the same way.

Moreover, recessions may lead to the loss of many jobs, but they can also create new ones.  Britain leaving the EU may cause a recession, however, it’s clear that the UK and the EU will have to get along in the future for trade relations and such like.  Trade relations could become complicated and messy – something which young, determined people could become involved in.  And it’s us students who are most likely to move into these jobs in the future, which will require technical craft, guile and faith in Europe.  In the future, perhaps we’ll be able to rejoin the EU, however unlikely it appears now.

Therefore, I hope the arguments I’ve posed above highlight that whilst the future may not exactly be ‘positive’ for us all, it is still students who will find it the most accessible.

For those who voted for Brexit, it looks like especially hard times are ahead, so I can’t help but feel sorry for those who will be unable to adapt as fast as others.  For those of us students who voted Remain, take solace in the fact that you won’t be the worst affected and perhaps have a moment of reflection for those who will be.  People will celebrate ‘taking back control’ when they probably have less control than ever before.

As young people, it’s easy to become disillusioned in a world, which sometimes appears to be inevitably turning in a negative direction.

Best player award.jpg

I don’t feel any animosity towards this EU inhabitant because he is much better at football than me – in fact I don’t understand why there has to be any anti-EU hostility at all.  What a clever political system we have in the UK that can engineer all this feeling…

But we have some power too to make a difference.  Organising a charity football tournament last weekend was special because a load of young people came together from all over the world to have fun and raise money for a wonderful charity.

So let’s not forget that the young people of today will be the leaders of tomorrow.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/eu-referendum-working-class-revolt-grieve

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