The Euros and an Uncertain Future for Young People if Britain leaves the EU

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This week certain members of the British public will decide whether or not to remain in the European Union, with many of those directly affected – including the 1.5 million Brits ages 16 and 17, the 2.9 million Europeans living in Britain, and the 2 million long-term British expats – excluded from the democratic process. Should we leave, as some polls suggest we may, the immediate and long-term futures of innumerable individuals, families and institutions will be threatened by tremendous uncertainty. Our research with young people from London and rural Oxfordshire concerns how their identities and life trajectories may be shaped by geography, and asks what role space and place might figure in their aspirations and life philosophies. The EU referendum is therefore of great relevance. Important questions concern the views of those on the margin of being able to vote, the influences shaping their sentiments, the consequential outcomes they imagine, and whether or not they will vote on the day. The majority of young people, it is suggested, are pro-Remain. However, there are likely to be more complex, layered and contradictory emotions this week, as England, Wales and Northern Ireland all attempt to make it out of the group stages of the European Championships. This coincidence could well impact the national psyche and voters’ persuasions – worryingly, for those of us terrified by the prospects of leaving the EU.

This is the bi-annual festival of intensified national pride and acceptable xenophobia. I dream of suffering for the Slovaks as England (and the home nations) battle through to take on the next European enemies. These tongue-in-cheek feelings of patriotism to the degree of nationalism, and scorn for your opponent, are fantastic (in my opinion) – yet very scary if taken literally or mixed with actual politics. The ritualistic aspects of coming together for your country for the football, as Patrick has previously researched, can put you under a spell; like the actor so into their role that they take their persona off-stage, we can start believing and behaving according to the nationalized sporting ethos we’re all encouraged to perform. I will always heartedly sing, “I’m England till I die!” and have always truly believed that we could win whichever championships we’ve ever played in. Yet the romantic (and usually delusional) idea that we can come together as a country, go it alone and go all the way should be kept at arm’s length from this very serious referendum.

I was recently in Leicester, for their last home game of this incredible season. Referring to next year’s Champions League which they have now qualified for, and to their manager’s wonderful reaction, fans repeatedly sung (to theme of Yellow Submarine), “We’re all going on a European tour, a European tour, a European tour, a Dilly Ding, a Dilly Dong, a Dilly Dii-iing, a Dilly Dong” – to which my German mate Luis would interject, “you’ll need visas!” Considering the majority of English football fans are pro-Leave, his ironic remark does actually say something quite serious about the extent of oblivious entitlement towards European mobility. There are in fact numerous aspects of our taken-for-granted cheap, boozy, health-insured, telephone-using European holidays which would detrimentally change – but which haven’t necessarily been thought through.

What, then, are the main inclinations for young people regarding whether or not to stay? Are the more frivolous and self-indulgent factors, such as cheap holidays, of more concern to young people than long-term threats to the UK economy? To secondary-school leavers, with relatively little social power and few immediate assets, the symbolism of supporting multiculturalism or alternatively, rejecting the current system, might be easier to engage with than the material and logistical aspects of political upheaval. Much like with the Leicester fans’ European tour, have young people thought through the practical implications that leaving the EU might have for years ahead – or, again as in football, is this seen as tribal identity, taken seriously by some and indifferently by others? There’s a chance that wins for England and Wales on Monday night might inebriate those on the fence into an island-mentality delirium. Whilst many young people would not be so easily swayed, one of the biggest fears now for Remain, is whether enough young people care enough to actually turn out to vote?

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