Tuesday 24 April 2018

A nation in shock: Young people blame their elders for Britain's gamble

Supporters of the Stronger In Campaign react as results of the EU referendum are announced at the Royal Festival Hall. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
Supporters of the Stronger In Campaign react as results of the EU referendum are announced at the Royal Festival Hall. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

The steps of Westminster Cathedral is the rendezvous point for dozens of young professionals on a Friday afternoon.

Junior doctors and architects, estate agents and retail workers, gather here to enjoy a takeaway lunch, chat about life and watch the world go by.

Yesterday, things were different.

The mood was one of despair.

It seemed this part of London was in the grip of a hangover following the night before.

A sense of confusion, even fear, had a choke-hold on the atmosphere over the North Bank of the River Thames.

Indeed, for this group of millennials, the result of the EU referendum came as a body blow to their prospects, their ambitions, even their futures.

"I woke up today with a sense of fear. It was a strange feeling. I don't know what's going to happen next," says Jamie Hillyar, as he lit up another cigarette.

His work colleague Justine Ballard said it will take days, if not weeks, for the result of Thursday's vote to sink in.

"We don't yet know the consequences," she adds.

Jamie and Justine reflect the views of so many young people who feel Britain's decision to leave will jeopardise their futures and place misery on their shoulders.

"How can I go to work today knowing every second person I met has driven us out of the EU," one young female professional said to me.

Just hours earlier in the Manchester Count Centre, young Remain supporters sobbed and embraced as the historical referendum result became known.

Overcome by a sense of deep disappointment and anxiety, these voters began asking the question 'What next for our future, and the future of our children?'

It's a question that, right now, nobody can answer.

Can our twenty and thirtysomethings really be expected to park their fears and hope everything will turn out to be okay?

In London, young people want to know why they woke up on Friday in a completely changed Britain.

A Britain no longer part of the union, a Britain they have never known before.

Friday truly marked the most significant political event in Britain since World War II, as a result of just over half the electorate deciding to wave goodbye to the 28-country bloc.

It appears that decision was taken by an older generation, with a vastly different viewpoint on Britain's place in the European Union.

To meet these voters, you have to travel a considerable distance from the major urban centres of London or Manchester.

The bar stools of the Grape's pub in Sutton, a borough of South East London, is the rendezvous point for a small group of retired tradesmen on a Friday afternoon.

These men often gather to discuss the latest football match, or their plans to head to Blackpool, or Torquay during the summer holidays.

But yesterday, the men were talking politics and in particular their sheer delight at the decision by Britain to leave the European Union.

"Why remain within a tent that is collapsing in plain sight," one of the bar stoolers remarked.

Outside the pub, stall keepers were focussed on last-minute trade, selling towels and flower pots and fruit and veg.

Sutton, a traditional and mostly working class town, is one of just five areas in London that bucked the trend and backed Leave.

It did so because it is unable to trust - or believe - the word of the establishment.

This town voted Leave because it feels it has been forgotten.

While deeply suspicious of being approached by a journalist, many of those enjoying an evening pint in their local pub were in celebratory mode.

Immigration and the apparent prospect of an EU-wide army were just two of the reasons given for voting to Leave.

These voters can't answer what will happen next. But they don't seem to care.

For them, the opportunity to give the two fingers to Brussels was one that couldn't be passed up.

But what about the young people - just a 30-minute train ride away - who believe they will have to saddle the consequences of yesterday's extraordinary decision.

"Let them off," one man replies.

"They have to stop chasing the coat-tails of the elite, the rich and famous," he adds.

There has been much talk, in the hours following the referendum result, of a nation - and now a continent - divided over whether the EU is fit for purpose.

But if the mood in cities like Manchester and London are anything to go by, a deep sense of resentment is building between whole generations.

That may just be a part of the unravelling 'Brexit' story - but it has the potential to leave wounds on a nation that no longer knows what tomorrow is going to bring.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business