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Brexit Britain European Union Freedom Youth Interests

Europhiles Don’t Speak for All Young People

Naked Politics blogger, Oliver Pridmore, speaks to Students For Brexit activist, Robert Langley.

Saturday, the 19th of January, 2019. Not a date that particularly sticks out as being significant in the minds of many people (other than in my own, as it happens to be my brother’s birthday).

However, if you happened to pick up The Guardian that day and glance over Polly Toynbee’s column, then it should be a very significant day indeed. On this day, Polly Toynbee caused a stir after penning this message: “This is the day, in theory, when the country turns remain.

“Even if not a single person has changed their mind since the referendum, the demographic shift alone will have done the heavy lifting. Enough old Leavers will have died and enough young Remainers will have come on to the electoral register to turn the dial on what the country thinks about Brexit.”

Admittedly, Polly wasn’t attempting to suggest in her column that every single young person was a Remainer. Nevertheless, some believe that the term ‘young Remainer’ is used so prominently in the media to the point that a ‘young Brexiteer’ is as much of an oxymoron as a gun-wielding pacifist.

The reason for this is clear: 61% of males aged 18-24 voted Remain in the 2016 referendum while this figure jumps to 80% for females. Nevertheless, that means that nearly 40% of males and 20% of females voted Leave.

These groups are largely ignored. But in fairness to the mainstream media, in terms of organisation, the young Brexiteers have been pretty low-key.

Until now.

The ‘Students for Brexit’ group was only established towards the end of January – but in less than a month it has grown into an organisation with more than 2,000 subscribers and 45 university groups around the UK.

For its founder, Robert Langley, a 19-year-old politics student at Kings College London, the idea came from a student Brexit debate in Leeds.

“I’d been invited to talk at this event and towards the end we did an audience poll, and it came back that 42% of the audience supported Brexit. I then asked all of them to raise their hands and let me tell you – 42% did not put their hands up!”

“It made me realise what a shy and embarrassed group these young Brexiteers were and that while the young Remainers were far more vocal, this group needed a platform,” said Robert.

Robert still believes a bias has been in place, claiming that “a narrative has been constructed that all young people are hard Remain and that our future has been stolen. This has been enforced by the bias in the universities which makes it almost impossible for young people to believe in Brexit.”

“In the universities, very little attention is actually given to the nature of the EU but instead the focus is on whether we’ll still be able to have a cheap weekend in Benidorm or Magaluf.”

Having backed Brexit in 2016, Robert began his studies at Kings College London with some apprehension. In his experience, “the teaching has been fairly balanced in lectures but it’s when those lecturers’ caps come off that the sly comments are made. I have to just accept most of them without challenging them – I’m not on a suicide mission.”

Comments from lecturers aside, Robert says that he’s had sympathy from some surprising quarters at university.

“When I saw the understanding from these students, I began to think that a campaign for all students wouldn’t be such a bad thing. My university is surrounded by international students but they seem to understand my views, even the students from the continent.”

Despite the formation and subsequent growth of the group, Robert believes they are still a way off from getting the kind of media attention he would like – “I was at a recent event with the Leave Means Leave group and no one from the press would come over and speak to me, I began to wonder if I had a weird smell.

“I had to go over and introduce myself to them, and let’s just say they were not very enthusiastic, I think they probably thought it was some sort of joke.”

In recent weeks, some believe that even Her Majesty the Queen has become embroiled in the Brexit debate. She urged more respectful debate and urged leaders to find ‘common ground’.

This is a sentiment which Robert is trying to emulate within his society: “It would be very easy for the campaign to just deteriorate into a slagging match but I think the debate needs to become more respectful.

“If you look at some of the protestors in London now – they are dressed head to toe in EU flags and it’s almost become a form of religion to them. You can’t say anything to change their minds.”

But changing minds isn’t primarily what the society is out to do. Rather, it exists primarily to give a platform to those who already believe in Brexit but don’t feel confident enough to express that view.

Robert concluded: “What we’ve got on the table at the moment only secures our withdrawal and does not push for the free trading relationship. Over the coming months, I’ll be banging the drum for the international Brexit that I want to see.”

In assessing the success of this group, it seems one will have to judge whether you can hear that drum banging.

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