The EU youth vote: Your grandparents are right


Approaching the referendum on restoring our democracy, as the EU referendum might better be called, much has been made, and much of it in a thoroughly patronising manner, of the so-called youth vote. If they come out to vote, we’re told, the UK will remain shackled to the EU. If they stay at home, we’ll leave. In order to facilitate a mass turnout of young voters, the Remainers are reaching out via Starbucks, Tinder and every other clichéd medium they can get work through.

The theory that young people are more inclined to vote to stay in the EU is supported by considerable polling evidence, with Leave supporters only becoming a majority at the age of 43. Indeed, my own experience of canvassing in the last week seems, for once, to reflect the polling. Under 35s, it seems, were either completely apathetic, or ‘probably’ voting to stay in.

Why? Younger people have been subjected to an increasingly large amount of propaganda from the EU (funded, of course, by their parents), then could possibly be considered healthy. EU flags, plaques on buildings, universities, like Kent, telling people ‘We are European’. This leads to a great deal of confusion about what the EU actually does. In recent months I’ve seen Erasmus, human rights and interrailing all linked to EU membership. They’re not.

Erasmus is an EU scheme but also includes countries that are not in the EU like Iceland, Norway and Turkey, proving that not being in the EU is not a barrier for participation. Human rights exist in places that are emphatically not in the EU and, at any rate, we invented them. Interrailing has nothing to do with the EU – despite its .eu domain – just ask the Swiss.  And the Norwegians. You get the picture.

But at the same time you can’t really blame young people. They’re not the 94% of businesses who have to conform to reams of constantly-shifting regulation generated to standardise a market they never trade in, they’re not working in a hospital pushed to breaking point by an immigration policy based on geography rather than skills. They’re not someone who has lost their job because the EU kills industries it doesn’t like. They’re not an African farmer or an Indian heart surgeon.  But crucially – they’ve never known anything different. They have no idea what a real democracy looks like or what the relationship between power and the people should be. Without this sense of wider perspective, they believe that the clunking bureaucracy of the EU is a positive force for good in the world, and are inclined to vote for what they perceive to vote for the status quo. But it’s here where young people ought to hear their parents and grandparents out, because there is no status quo.

In 1975 many young people voted for continued membership of the EEC. The vast majority are now voting to Leave. The experience of that generation should be enough to remind people that the EU never stays the same for very long and those who voted enthusiastically to stay in 1975 are the most vocal critics of the political class who they believe lied to them.

The European Union is heading in only one direction. We’ve already been promised a legislative tsunami in 2016 and the EU is committed to further expansion – another 88 million people –  and further integration that will remove what little sovereign power national parliaments still retain.

If you want to live in a federal Europe, with a single currency, army and central government then by all means vote to Remain with all the enthusiasm you can muster. If you want anything else, and you have the foresight to realise that you’ll be negatively impacted by the EU soon enough, then bear in mind the experience of your grandparents.

Neil Wilson is Head of Conservatives for Liberty Northern Ireland. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neil4ebelfast

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty