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The EU Referendum: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

In this week’s blog, Jamie Mercer from Youth Focus: North East looks at the EU referendum, young people’s voice, and the ramifications that the verdict could have on the youth sector.

June 23. The date has now been set for the EU referendum where regular Joes and Josephines get the vote as to whether The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland stays in the European Union or leaves.

You’ll no doubt be familiar by now with the phrase ‘Brexit’, a portmanteau of Britain and exit, which has been used by the ‘out’ campaigners, in the press, and on social media. Headlines have been dominated by which politicians are ‘in’ or ‘out’, political parties are arguing amongst themselves on the issue, yet very little information has been made readily available as to what the consequences of either vote will mean.

Those in favour of a British withdrawal from the EU argue that being a member of the EU undermines Parliamentary sovereignty, while those in favour of staying in the EU argue that any theoretical loss of sovereignty is compensated by the benefits of membership of the EU. ‘Out’ supporters argue that leaving the EU would allow the UK to better control immigration and be in a better position to conduct its own trade negotiations, free from EU ‘regulations and bureaucracy’. Contrary, ‘In’ supporters believe that leaving the EU would actually risk the UK’s prosperity and reduce Britain’s influence on world affairs, resulting in trade barriers between the UK and the EU.

The fact of the matter is that there are myriad issues that being a member of the EU affects ranging from freedom of movement, employment, education (universities rely on 16% of their funding coming from Europe), other EU members seeking their own withdrawal, Scotland seeking another independence referendum, and many other matters that may not immediately come to mind when thinking about the decision.

Our sector will also be affected by any potential decision. The Remain campaign released figures on February 24 stating that British charities could lose nearly £250,000,000 a year in funding if Britain exited the EU. Questions have yet to be answered about what happens to any of the European funding streams that are currently allowing lots of UK-based projects to continue to deliver excellent work. What happens to Erasmus+? What happens to ESRC? What happens to ESF? Hypothetically speaking, if Britain was to vote out, would that potentially leave hundreds of charities, NPOs and voluntary organisations in the lurch having to look for new funding post-June? Or would there be a grace period to allow currently funded projects to reach their end? These are very serious questions that will affect both those employed in the sector as well as those who access the services provided by the organisations, including children and young people.

That such a decision would impact on the lives of children and young people, it seems strange to me that the vote was not extended to 16-17 year olds – especially after the roaring success opening the voting age had during the Scottish Referendum during which 80% of eligible 16-17 year olds registered to vote. Away from Scotland, the Labour leadership election seemed to ignite a political passion in young people yet there seems to be a reluctance to include young people in politics in England.

At Youth Focus: North East we are currently running a political engagement and awareness project called My Manifesto, funded by the Ballinger Charitable Trust. The aim of the project is to put politics in plain English for young people and to encourage all under-25s to take part in the political debate. When people talk about politics thoughts tend to meander towards ‘Big P’ politics when in fact politics actually impacts the majority of everyday interactions. We have been delivering political engagement drop-in sessions throughout the North East region with varied groups of young people asking them what politics means to them. Amongst the more obvious answers such as ‘laws’, ‘David Cameron’ and ‘voting’ there have been some very interesting reactions. Privacy, health, the quality of schools, mental health support, racism, islamophobia, disability discrimination, and media bias/representation have all appeared throughout discussions.

What this tells me is that young people are aware of political issues. It tells me young people are capable of understanding ramifications and cause and effect. Finally, it tells me that young people 16-17 should absolutely be involved in the debate, and their vote should be considered. After all, regardless of the outcome, they are the ones inheriting the fall out.

Jamie Mercer, Youth Focus: North East

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