The UK kicked off the new year by working on its new relationship with the European Union, having left the bloc’s political and economic orbit at the end of 2020.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the move, saying Brexit would allow the UK to regain control of its “laws and its fate”.
But many young people in the UK and across Europe have been dismayed by the change, which will have far-reaching consequences for the rules governing life, work and the movement of people between the country and the continent.
More than 70% of people under 25 in the UK voted Remain in the UK’s June 2016 referendum on the EU, according to opinion polls. However, overall, 52% of voters chose to leave the bloc.
Four and a half years later, and after months of intense political drama, Al Jazeera spoke to young Brits and Europeans about their feelings on Brexit:
‘There has been a rise in hatred – it’s embedded in Brexit culture’
Emmanuel Onapa, 21, British in London, UK:
I was quite shocked by Brexit, but nonetheless I was not so surprised because I know how immigrants were demonized and made to be something they were not. It couldn’t be further from the truth. With all the lies that circulated during the campaign and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was kind of a democracy breakdown. But now Brexit is the worst situation you can be in.
During a pandemic, you should not leave the EU. It is essential that we focus on building alliances and working together. I think there has been a rise in hatred as well – it’s ingrained in Brexit culture.
There has been a problem with European migrants who come to work in the country. How will this affect Blacks and Maroons in Britain? Brexit supporters feel like they are claiming what is theirs. It dates back to the days of Great Britain as a colonial power.
‘I don’t see any positives’
Kimi Chaddah, 18, British in Manchester, UK:
The Brexit vote was disheartening. I did not have a chance to vote. It was as if something had been decided for us that we didn’t want and had no say in.
The atmosphere of the country has not been the same since. Everything has become much more polarized. We have the impression that we become much more introspective, we hide ourselves, when we should discover more.
The ability to interact with different cultures is much more complicated and now you need visas. I go to Spain every year normally and Europe is the place we feel most connected with.
But I’m more worried about the impact that has had in terms of unleashing racism and the attitudes of people that stress me more. Obviously, the campaign was based on lies and hatred towards people from different countries.
I don’t see any positive. At the moment, it looks like there will be a lot of internal strife. It looks like a few scary years to come.
“ People my age where I live did not vote for this ”
Caitlin M Kearns, 23, Irish in Belfast, Northern Ireland:
The problem with Northern Ireland is that we are part of the UK, but we are in the same landmass as the Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the EU. It’s a very strange situation, we are kind of in a no man’s land. It’s a very difficult relationship.
We did not vote to leave the EU as a bloc. I am very against Brexit, I voted Remain. I work in theater and the arts and it scares me that I cannot travel to work. It’s just another obstacle to my life and work in Europe. I think it’s a huge shame.
People my age where I live did not vote for it, we did not ask for it and we did not want it, but it is forced on us. It is a tumultuous and frightening time.
“Brexit asks the question, what will Europe represent today?”
Eloïse, 18, French in Dunkirk, France:
There is a dysfunction in Europe behind all of this. I find it sad that a large important country like England has found itself on the margins and has not achieved all the good resolutions that Europe could offer.
I know that for us at the local level there will be fewer jobs and less business. For me, England is as close as Paris. It’s the port right next to us.
The end of the Erasmus course (an EU student exchange program) is terrible. I wanted to go to UK for internships, and now it’s a mess.
But Brexit asks the question, what will Europe represent today? It is possible that England is more ambitious than the EU in terms of things like ecology. I think we work better together, but it might be a time to change the system. Now is the time to ask, what is Europe for Europeans?
‘I think we have a better future thanks to Brexit’
Owen Reed, 21, British in Bedworth, UK:
I am delighted with Brexit. I think it’s better for our democracy if we elect people who make the laws and I think that more responsibility for the people who make our laws is obviously a good thing.
I also think a lot of industries have been cheated in recent years because of Brexit, like the fishing industry. Many laws are unnecessary, and small and medium-sized businesses cannot keep up with the red tape. I think they will thrive once we start taking this off.
As a young person, I would like to open my own business in the future. Now that we’ve left the EU, I think there will be better free trade deals – like Japan’s. I am excited about the opportunities. I think we have a better future thanks to Brexit. We have the big world there. We can now step out of the EU’s orbit and do things on our own.
‘It’s really heartbreaking’
Sinead McCausland, 23, British in Paris, France:
When the Brexit vote took place in 2016, I was still in college. It was two years before I graduated. But I knew because of that that I wanted to live in Europe before this right was taken away. That’s why I moved here. I never intended to stay here long term. But I fell in love with it completely and didn’t really want to leave.
But I think so many people’s lives will be changed because of Brexit. I think this is horrible and a mistake. For young people, many do not even know what is taken from them until they have had the chance to live in Europe. It is kidnapped by people who have had their whole lives to do it. I think that’s what bothers me the most.
Many of my French friends who wanted to move to London say they won’t care because it’s too difficult. It’s really heartbreaking.