Theresa May took us all by surprise when announcing a snap General Election on June 8, in which Brexit will likely be the dominating theme. By casting their ballot on June 8, young people can hopefully influence the UK’s agenda prior to the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Having to live the longest with the consequences, it is paramount that young people’s voices are taken into account in the negotiation process. However, many young voters feel disconnected from politics and believe that their vote doesn’t matter. With its #MyBrexit campaign, My Life My Say aims to bring politics back to the disenfranchised.
Regular readers of our news section might already be a bit familiar with My Life My Say. Amy Longland was one of the speakers of our EVS4ALL multiplier event “Youth and Mobility in a Post-Brexit Europe”, in which she first brought to our attention My Life My Say’s commitment to hearing and then amplifying the opinions of Britain’s young people in Brexit negotiations. Her intervention interested me and I was eager to experience My Life My Say’s approach to politics first hand, so on the evening of April 12 I headed to Hackney House for their campaign’s launch event.
With red cups filled with sodas; crisps and nuts; music and poetry and a Lord taking the stage, the event felt almost like the opening of a modern art festival. In her poetic opening statement, Sophia Thakur urged to the government to continue to invest in young people to facilitate their potential as leaders of tomorrow. You can see an extract of her brilliant opening statement here.
After this inspirational introduction, Mete Coban, Chief Executive of My Life My Say explained exactly why the campaign is needed. In the UK, this generation of young people is often portrayed as apathetic and less likely to vote. Of the 7.4 million 18 to 24 year olds living in the United Kingdom, only half are registered voters. During the EU referendum, only 36% of those registered youngsters expressed their desire to stay in or leave the European Union. With less than 2% of British MPs being under 30 and the average age of a local Councillor being 66; it’s not really surprising that young people consider themselves unrepresented. By organising Brexit cafes in local coffee shops all over the UK, My Life My Say makes it easier for young people to come together and have their say on Brexit. With the support of the London School of Economics, the concerns raised in these cafes are fed into the reports for the Better Brexit for Young People All-Party Parliamentary Group. Participation in the meetings of this group provides My Life My Say with the opportunity to facilitate direct discussions between young people, youth organisations and politicians. So far, more than twenty youth organisations have expressed their points of view and the first policy recommendations will be published in June and September.
Next, several speakers took the stage to outline their hopes for post-Brexit Britain. The audience had the opportunity to raise questions and poetry and comedy helped to lighten the mood after disagreements. Labour MP Neil Coyle expressed his concern that Brexit takes away UK young people’s’ possibilities of living, volunteering or studying abroad within the framework of the Erasmus+ programme. London based blogger Noel Williams worried that upward social mobility would be even more limited after the UK leaves the EU. BKChat’s Nissy Tee urged the audience to overcome the divisions and hatred created by the referendum. This theme was also taken up by the candidate for president of the National Union of Students, Tom Harwood, who called for action to halt the stereotypical thinking on the UK’s future and to embrace the upcoming opportunities. The #MyBrexit campaign was welcomed by Mariam Waseem, trustee of the British Youth Council, as a way to help minors express their political views. She also expressed her hope for the continued protection of human rights as the United Kingdom leaves the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. As final speaker, Liberal Democrat Lord Taverne reflected on the role of the House of Lords as the only institution to take into account the wishes of the remain side in the months leading up to the triggering of Article 50.
Most of these speakers engage daily with hundreds of young people via social media channels. Their engagement in the #MyBrexit campaign will hopefully convince young people that they too have a meaningful voice in politics and encourage them to register to vote and to cast their ballot. Those who would like to participate in a Brexit cafe can find an overview of upcoming events here. It is also possible to share your wishes for the future relationship between the UK and EU on twitter with the hashtag #MyBrexit.
Pieter Baeten, European Projects Coordinator