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Supporters of the "stronger in" campaign react as results of the EU referendum are announced.
Supporters of the "stronger in" campaign react as results of the EU referendum are announced.
Rob Stothard/AFP/Getty Images

Brexit is a middle finger from the baby boomers to young people like me

The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, 52 percent to 48 percent.

I am broken by this result. As a young person, I cannot help but feel betrayed. In fact, it’s somewhat hard not to take it a little bit personally.

Let’s look at the voter demographics. The "Leave" vote was overwhelmingly carried by those over the age of 65, whereas according to pre-vote polling, 72 percent of those ages 18 to 24 favored "Remain." Why does this matter? Surely, in a referendum every vote is equal, and the will of the people carries regardless of the demographic?

Well, there is some truth to that. But that doesn’t mean every UK voter will suffer the same consequences.

The process of the UK leaving the EU would not be complete until late 2018 at the very earliest, assuming Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered when a new prime minister is appointed this autumn. Even then, that’s just the basic settlement — trade deals and movement regulations could take decades to hammer out.

My generation will not enjoy the free movement to 27 different countries and the workers’ rights that rescued Britain from the "sick man of Europe" era of the 1970s

Despite young people having to live with the decision of the referendum for an average of 69 years, it has been decided for them by people who will only have to live with it for an average of 16 years. Put simply: The long-term effects of Brexit will not be felt by those who overwhelmingly voted for it. Because they will be dead.

This is a final middle-fingered salute to the young from the baby boomer generation. Not content with racking up insurmountable debt, not content with destroying any hopes of sustainable property prices or stable career paths, not content with enjoying the benefits of free education and generous pension schemes before burning down the ladder they climbed up, the baby boomers have left one last turd on the doorstep of the younger generation.

My generation will not enjoy the free movement to 27 different countries and the workers’ rights that rescued Britain from the "sick man of Europe" era of the 1970s. For us, there will be no golden age of economic hope and glory. UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage’s sickening elation at "independence day for the United Kingdom" (surely a joke, given the context of violent colonialism that Britain herself exported to the world over the past centuries, yet sadly deadly serious) heralds nothing but a grim forecast of turmoil.

I could go on about the economic hardships Britain will face. Instead, I’ll explain why I feel betrayed as a 21-year-old student.

The UK’s coal industry is gone. Our shipbuilding industry is gone. Our steel industry is fast disappearing. And with increased globalization when it comes to sourcing commodities, our food industry looks to be going that way too. What has gained the UK a triple-A credit rating, and a place among the strongest economies in the world, is the strength of its financial sector and its research sector.

The UK is home to some incredible universities. According to the QS 2015/16 World University Ranking, four of the top 10 universities in the world are based in the UK. One of these is the University of Oxford, where I have just completed an undergraduate degree. Another, University College London, is where I will be starting my master's degree in October. It’s safe to say I have a stake in these institutions receiving the level of funding that have helped them become such prestigious research hubs.

In the University of Oxford’s official statement, it acknowledged that it received £66 million a year from the European Union. Not only will Oxford lose this money, potentially, but it will also risk losing out on pan-European collaboration on research, an invaluable asset when forming ambitious research projects.

When the results came out, my fellow students and young friends reacted with dismay. All the classic stages of grief were represented.

University College London’s outlook is even bleaker. The provost, professor Michael Arthur, pointed out that the UK is a net recipient of EU research funding, and thus would lose vast swaths of higher education funding. This is not to mention the loss of the Erasmus program, encouraging movement of students around European universities, as well as schemes such as Horizon 2020, which funds UK universities (and of which UCL is the highest funded university in the entire European Union).

Put more simply, the loss of the 12 percent of the UCL student body that Brexit would flirt with would put around £40 million of income at risk, a devastating blow to any university.

And yet, even while writing that, I felt my heart sink. These facts were not hidden from the UK electorate. The experts were not meek, timid, insipid — they were bold, outspoken, and unanimous in their verdict.

It didn’t matter. The UK voters ignored them. In fact, Michael Gove, a leading figure in the Leave campaign and a potential candidate for the next prime minister of the United Kingdom, not only said that "Britain has had enough of experts" but likened those same experts to Nazis. There was a total and institutional rejection of the advice of economic experts by the Leave campaign. Their campaign peddled lies, and our country will pay the price.

When the results came out, my fellow students and young friends reacted with dismay. Some reacted with anger, some with hope, some with pleas, such as a petition to challenge the result. All the classic stages of grief were represented.

My parents voted Remain, and understand the negative consequences of Leave. But the generation before them, my grandparents, seem blind to what they have unleashed. They don’t see the hypocrisy of adopting a staunchly anti-immigration stance in line with the Leave campaign’s xenophobic tactics — even though their own parents fled persecution of Jews in Central Europe in the early 20th century.

Many people are calling for the fighting spirit of Churchill, in a hope that our country will come together now and make the best of a bad situation. "Chin up," they say. "We can’t sit around moping. We need to unite!"

I am a member of a generation that was supposed to represent hope — we were meant to solve the problems left by the last generation, usher in an era of progressive and unified humanity. We were meant to be the people to finally harness the technological potential of the 20th century for something other than a world war. We were the eternal optimists.

How on earth can a generation so filled with wonder and ambition and hope be so utterly crushed by the time most of its members hit their 20s? Last night’s vote, and the EU referendum campaign, showed how.

The United Kingdom is anything but united. With this vote, the cynicism that my generation was supposed to have left behind has been reborn. The vote will undoubtedly erode the last of any optimism that we could have carried forward from the past few years.

Jack Lennard recently graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in archaeology and anthropology. He will be beginning a master’s degree in cultural heritage studies at University College London in October.


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