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Why we're so scared of Brexit

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When the date of the EU referendum was announced at the end of February, I braced myself for an onslaught of scare tactics and panic-stricken articles from both sides of the debate. I knew it would be passionately fought across the spectrum of beliefs, yet I wasn’t prepared for the near total dearth of young people’s voices. Where were they?

I began to worry early on after noticing that piles of ‘Vote Leave’ leaflets urging us to ‘reclaim’ the NHS were being handed out on my university campus each week. Having pointedly declined to take one many times, I began to wonder where my fellow ‘Stronger In’ voices were; I wasn’t seeing pro-EU engagement from my student peers – but I knew it existed.

Young people have plenty of obstacles to contend with if they want to make it to the ballot box on June 23rd. First of all, they’re apparently less likely to vote, and hundreds of thousands of students are missing off the electoral register altogether as a result of changes in the voter registration process.

Second, the news at the end of last year that voting will not be extended to 16-year-olds, despite them being allowed to vote in 2014’s Scottish independence referendum, was very disappointing.

Finally there’s the small fact that the EU referendum coincides with Glastonbury Music Festival – very convenient, one might say, considering up to 200,000 mostly-young voters will therefore need to register to vote by post if they want to be heard.

Despite these challenges, many young people are passionately pro-EU and want their votes to matter. Since the beginning of 2016, there’s been some brilliant work by Students4Europe and various pro-EU branches at universities – yet I haven’t seen any of the sentiments I share with my friends reflected in the media. So many of the pro-EU arguments have focused on the economic benefits of EU membership –as important as these considerations are, they can seem a little dry. Few seemed to be speaking about the more affective concerns of my generation – so I decided to do something about it.

Living and studying in London has brought me into contact with some of the brightest, most motivated and inspiring people imaginable. As someone who grew up in a very small town, exposure to all the diversity of this multicultural metropolis has opened my mind. We need look no further than London, with its social progressiveness and international allure, to find a better reason for staying in the EU.

Inspired by my friends, I have addressed what I feel is a significant gap in the EU debate – not only young voices, but young voices from all over Europe. What do they really think about the referendum? Do they feel disenchanted with the idea? How is the UK perceived in their countries, and how might the Brexit affect them?

Friends from Norway, Germany, Montenegro, Austria and the Netherlands, among others, offered their opinions and together we created a podcast. All are aged 25 and under, and most of them are students or recent graduates.

Throughout the making of the podcast, some significant findings emerged. It quickly became obvious that by entertaining the idea of leaving the EU, the UK is portraying itself in a terrible light: arrogant, selfish and myopic. The UK already has many opt-outs (for instance from the Schengen Area) and now it seems it’s seeking even more special treatment. The ‘island mentality’ is becoming more and more apparent to our neighbours on the mainland.

However a shared sentiment of the EU as an institution for peace, partnership and exchange provides a glimmer of hope. A sense of emotional connection is the main thing missing from the debate – investment in the beauty of the idea of the EU.

All my interviewees shared this notion and I hope their voices will add colour and sentiment to what feels sometimes like a very grey, dry debate. It’s worth remembering that Europe’s perceptions of the UK are worth thinking about as well as the other way around.

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