The immediate repercussions for future generations of young British people will be what Brexit means for their right to study, live, work and travel in the rest of the EU. That will all certainly be affected, but we don’t know how, exactly, because the UK will look to leverage maximum co-operation on things like university projects across borders, funding for research, science grants, etcetera. But in the end, that will ultimately depend on what the UK offers the EU, as well. It’s two-way process, and we can’t say right now exactly where that’s going to end up.
In the broader view, looking at the direction in which politics seems to be heading, there is undeniably a shift to the right, and undeniably a shift to a more protectionist, inward-looking UK. The Prime Minister can deny that all she wants, and insist that there is a global future beckoning Britain, but there’s an irony in her saying that she wants to be the biggest advocate for free trade, and she’s leaving the biggest free-trading market in the world.
So many of the advantages I had growing up, in terms of travelling, living in other countries, all of that comes under the spotlight now. But another thing which this Brexit vote might compel young people to do is face up to the political situation. Young people tend to be on the liberal side of the political spectrum. They don’t feel that any of the politicians right now really speak for them. So we might see young people feeling more compelled to engage with politics, to organise, to understand that a lot of things that we took for granted can’t be taken for granted any more.
A lot of other European countries are now very keen for the best and brightest young entrepreneurial spirits from Britain to decamp and set up their businesses and start-ups there. There would be some barriers to that – the language barrier, most obviously – but I do think that other countries are very willing to listen to the rhetoric of European politicians in the aftermath of the Brexit vote: they were all quick to point out that the younger generation voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and that they saw that as a really positive sign. There has been discussion in Germany and France about whether they can grant dual citizenship to UK citizens already living and working there.
With regards to a brain drain, if the UK wants the brightest and the best to come, then it needs to be liberal and open. If the consequence of a hard Brexit is that it’s more difficult from talent from around the world to come, then I think it’s inevitable that the UK’s own best and brightest will move to environments where they can find that rapport and stimulation, where they can grow a company – places like London is now.
I’m half-German and I came to the UK precisely because of its internationalist vibrancy. Given the political climate in the UK right now, I would certainly have looked at other possibilities. This entire debate has toxified the UK on a global platform. The feeling that the UK is heading towards a more backwards, isolationist position is something that young people certainly feel, and will encoruage them to look at opportunities elsewhere in the world.