Waking up on the morning of 24th June to the news that the UK voters had decided that the UK is better off outside of the EU has been a shock to many in the UK & Europe. Firstly, let me declare that this is a personal perspective, and I am, always have been and always will be an ardent, passionate Europhile and supporter of the EU. I spent the last couple of days following the announcement on a mini-tier point run (a trip on various flights with the sole purpose of earning a large amount of miles.) My trip took me to 4 European countries over the 2 days, and I mulled over how this referendum result came about, and what it means for the UK, me and my Finnish husband.
I was genuinely shocked (as I suspect many others were when they asked their parents’ views on the EU) to find that my mother had voted to leave the EU. In her own words, “I never wanted to join the common market in the first place.” Thanks to a lot of shock tactics on immigration and references to the halcyon days of the UK as a strong, independent nation, it would seem that the baby boomer generation and those in the previous generations have generally voted to “pull us out” of the EU. “We can stand on our own two feet, we don’t need them”, goes the rallying call. Thanks to the wider adoption of postal voting, many more people in older generations have participated in this referendum, voting weeks before the actual day of the referendum.
Whilst some discuss whether the tragic murder of Labour MP, Jo Cox was a point at which attitudes started to shift in favour of “Vote Remain”, the majority of postal votes had already been cast. The fact that so many people who are no longer working and paying tax have made a decision on the future for the rest of us may be frustrating, but it’s also very telling that the older generation chose to use their right to vote to actively participate in the future of the UK.
Voter apathy has been a malaise in the UK for decades. This is particularly evident amongst Generation Y. The younger generation feel despair at the political landscape and are considerably less likely to participate. It would seem that in this referendum, this lower level of participation was once again evident. Despite a very high (by UK standards) turnout of around 72%, this demographic seems to have been skewed toward older voters. Within 48 hours of the result, an astounding 3,000,000 people have signed a government petition calling for a 2nd referendum. Clearly, there is a considerable wave of regret at the outcome, perhaps driven by the three regions where the voters chose to remain (London, Scotland & Northern Ireland.) This is, at last, seemingly the point where the rallying call to action is being responded to. With so many people calling for another referendum, surely the government must listen?
As much as I am appalled at and ashamed of the referendum result, I am more frustrated by the lack of action in the original referendum – we had our chance to vote remain, and we didn’t do enough. We now need to live with the consequences of our voter apathy – economic and employment uncertainty, market instability and political turmoil. From a personal perspective, I am reflecting on what it means to be British after the referendum, and the consequences of leaving the EU for someone married to an EU citizen.