I don’t feel any restrictions

Brexit in 2016 brought into sharp relief the cleavage among voters along generational lines. So how do young people feel about Brexit and the alleged dominance of the EU in their country?

Photo: London, UK July 2, 2016: A group of people protesting the result of the EU Referendum in the UK on on 23 June, which saw the UK vote for Brexit - a withdrawal from the EU. (iStock.com / David Callan)

Thomas Richardson, 23, is a psychology PhD-student from Manchester. Talking to him about sovereignty, it does not take a minute for the referendum on the European Union to be mentioned. But what he has to say will not make many politicians happy.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about sovereignty?

It is some kind of patriotism – control about your country’s destiny and future. But interestingly, I haven’t thought that much about sovereignty. I think it might be that as a young person sovereignty isn’t that important to you. Maybe that is because many young people feel that they don’t have a lot of control of their country anyway.

How did you experience the debate about the EU referendum?

I think sovereignty was a guiding force for the “vote leave”-campaign. Whether or not you care about sovereignty it is a pretty good way of dividing between people who voted “remain” and who voted “leave”. When young people think about sovereignty, we get this image: old people who yearn for the days of the empire and who are proud to be British. They have this way of thinking that “we” once ruled the world. For younger people and a lot of people who voted “remain”, the word sovereignty doesn’t really have a meaning.

Do you see a connection to your personal life?

Not really. For example, if any European laws restrict my freedom, I probably wouldn’t realize it. I mean, if you look at it, you’ve got a couple of fisherman who are restricted by the EU. Or, there are a couple of health and safety laws which are restrictive. The media took these cases and really exaggerated it and told the people, Europe is infringing on your freedom. But I don’t really see much of that in my personal life. I don’t feel any restrictions coming from the EU, at all.

Do you expect the upcoming Brexit to turn Britain more sovereign again?

Short term Brexit will increase the English people’s sense of sovereignty. But actually, it is very hard to describe how we are taking back control of our country. The thing is assuming that we want to stay in the common market – which I think we do – we will still have to accept some European laws like trade laws. But now we can’t vote on them anymore. So, when you look at it, we lost quite a bit of sovereignty. But I don’t think that is what most of this is about. It is about a subjective feeling of what sovereignty is. These feelings don’t have to be based on reality.

Up until a few months ago you lived in Glasgow. What is the situation in Scotland?

Scotland all voted remain. And now Britain is leaving. So, the referendum left a lot of Scottish people feeling that they have less sovereignty than they ever did. Or rather, it is just more evidence for them that they don’t have their own sovereignty. They want to leave the United Kingdom because they feel like within the UK they have no control about their country’s future.

How do you feel about the new prime minister’s change in opinion?

I was really angry about this. I think a lot of people had no idea who Theresa May was. But I realized I disagree with a lot of her views, like her opinion on international students which I think is completely irrational. She was only elected in by her peers. Particularly among people who didn’t vote for the Conservatives in the last election, there is a feeling that there are a lot of people that they didn’t even vote for choosing the prime minister of the UK. So, it is a double loss of my freedom there. It feels like a double slap.

Why do you disagree with her opinion on international students?

I disagree with May’s stance on international students because international students represent some of the best of their country and are extremely skilled and hardworking: we’d be lucky to have them [as ours]. International students represent all the positives of immigration with none of the drawbacks – so, why the PM seems to want to drive them away baffles me.

How can younger people get more involved in the political processes that are going on?

Believing that if you get engaged in the political process, you won’t be ignored. [I need the] feeling that my opinion matters if it comes to my country. You could promote a culture of voting as the norm via the social media. In combination with people going voting and telling their friends to go vote this could have a snowball-effect. And if you get people to vote at a young age, they’ll probably keep doing it for the rest of their lives.

The article first appeared in Sagwas.

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