British millennials, Gen Z battle 'unfair' Brexit

Anna Cuenca, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 08 2019 11:13 AM

British millennials, Gen Z battle 'unfair' Brexit 1
Anti-Brexit protesters stand outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain Feb. 7, 2019. Henry Nicholls, Reuters

LONDON -- Cambridge University student Lara Spirit has shelved her studies to fight against Brexit -- something she said is being unfairly imposed by "older generations" on millennials and members of Generation Z, yearning to stay European.

The 22-year-old was two terms away from completing her political science degree when she put the lot on hold to take up the anti-Brexit battle.

"Those who are most opposed to Brexit are those who will have to deal with the consequences for the longest," she told AFP.

After Britain's 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union, pollsters Ipsos MORI estimated that 75 percent of Britons aged 18 to 24 wanted the UK to stay in the EU -- though they were also the least likely to have voted.

To their dismay, the wider electorate voted by 52 percent for Britain to leave the bloc, with older generations voting heavily in favor of quitting.

Experts warned the outcome could increase young people's disaffection with politics.

With less than two months to go until Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, some young activists insist it is not too late to think again.

To be "stripped" of the right to live and work in the EU -- freedoms that were open to their parents and grandparents -- is "unfair", said Spirit.

Above all, she fears the economic repercussions for millennials.

The UK government estimates that Britain faces lower growth due to Brexit, and many companies have already halted planned investments and new posts.

"I am of a generation which is going to have to clean up the mess of Brexit," said Spirit.


Millennials are generally defined as a person who reached adulthood in the early 21st century while Gen Z refers to those born from the mid-1990s to early 2000s.

Not all wanted Britain to stay in the EU.

"It was my first vote and I voted to leave because I thought that we would have a brighter, better future outside the EU," said Will Dry, 20, a philosophy, politics and economics student at Oxford University.

"I thought if we left, we could do more trade with allies and friends around the world like Australia and Canada. I thought that we could take back control of our laws. I thought we could save money."

His parents and most of his family were of the same mind, he said.

Dry speaks in a quickfire manner -- but slows down to explain that he now thinks a lot of those reasons are "misguided and wrong".

"If you take trade, I didn't know that we do so much trade with the EU and that actually the best way to trade with countries not in Europe, countries around the world, is through the EU," he said.

Dry and Spirit joined forces with campaigner Femi Oluwole to launch Our Future, Our Choice (OFOC), a youth group aimed at bringing about a second Brexit referendum through activism and engagement -- and the odd eye-catching publicity stunt.


For Oluwole, 28, opposition to Brexit is also "a values thing".

"We don't see borders the way previous generations did," he said, citing the ability to tweet a foreign leader or play online computer games with others around the world.

He said people born from 1974 onwards had only ever known holding both British and EU citizenship and "we do not like the idea that our identity will be stripped from us".

Oluwole studied Law and French at Nottingham University and then did several internships with European institutions in Brussels.

He came back to Britain three months before the 2016 referendum and mixed campaigning on social networks with a pizzeria job.

"My life was basically Domino's and Brexit," he said.

He had 20 followers on Twitter; they now number 133,000.

In two months, he raised £12,000 ($15,600, 13,700 euros) through crowd-funding, which enabled him to get OFOC off the ground.

Now armed with £70,000 and financial support from other pro-European groups, his campaign tours Britain in a large blue bus, scooping up student support.

"Our generation wants to tackle climate change, the refugee crisis, companies not paying their fair share of tax," Dry said.

"How is our generation in the UK going to tackle these problems if we are not able to participate in the European Union?"

© Agence France-Presse