Turning Back The Clock: The Regression of Brexit

Lord Bilimoria spoke to Stand Up about the damaging cultural legacy of Brexit for young people


Life peer and Cobra beer empire entrepreneur Lord Bilimoria understands the hard work it takes to engage young people in politics. As Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, and through traveling to other universities and schools, Lord Bilimoria has faced questions from students on Brexit—and he is well aware of the anger felt by young people about the referendum.

Lord Bilimoria said the decision to hold the referendum on 23 June was “not thought through” for young people, as most students would have left university after their exams. He cites it as a critical factor in the outcome of the referendum.

“You look at what happened last year with the referendum and if young people who were 18-24 years old had turned up to vote in the same proportion as the over 65 year olds we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Lord Bilimoria says.

“With the talks I give—whether it’s at schools to A-level students or at universities—whenever I have asked a young audience whether they would have wanted to vote Remain or Leave, it’s literally 99% Remain.”

Of those who voted, 75% of young people voted Remain compared with 39% of those who were 65 or over, according to YouGov. Yet, only 65% of young people voted compared to 90% of those 65 and over. Young votes were outweighed.

However, young voter turnout was double that originally reported (and many older Leave voters had attacked young voters for not turning up to the polls), but when we have an ageing population, Lord Bilimoria believes it’s critical that turnout is as high as possible for young voters to be heard.

“If young people could engage with politics fully at a very early stage it is for their own interests, their own future,” Lord Bilimoria reflects. “The worst thing about the referendum is that it’s taking away the future from our youth. By the time we get to 2019 when the final negotiations are meant to take places those 16-17 year olds who were not allowed to vote last year will be of the age to vote, and those will be the same people who, if they’d had a say, would have overwhelmingly voted to Remain. That’s the whole argument on the public getting a second referendum at that time.”

“If young people could engage with politics fully at a very early stage it is for their own interests, their own future”

Lord Bilimoria argues that a second referendum would achieve a more realistic result due to Leavers who felt regret and young people who would be allowed to have their say in a second vote.

The rise in hate crimes since the result has not passed Lord Bilimoria unnoticed. He’s personally felt the damage done by the referendum. Prior to the vote he’d not experienced racism, but the Brexit result has irrevocably changed Britain.

“Having come here as a 19 year old from India for my education, having seen the prejudice that existed in the early 80s, having seen the glass ceiling that existed in the 80s to someone who was a foreigner, someone who was from an ethnic minority, I saw that first hand. I also saw the amazing transformation of this country over the last three decades,” Lord Bilimoria emphasises.

He states that Britain built itself into one of the world’s leading economies due to embracing diversity.

“I feel bad for the youth of today that the impression that has been created then and since is turning the clock back on the progress we’ve made in the last three decades. It is that progress that has transformed this country in every way. It’s that diversity and aspiration that has helped us to achieve.

This article featured in issue 1 of Stand Up Magazine, which you can order here

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