By Alex Chitty
Unemployment is falling in the UK, and now stands at 4.9%. GDP is up 2.3% on last year. You could be forgiven for questioning whether Brexit was the disastrous event we were told it would be. These statistics are not an indication, however, of post-Brexit economic prosperity because – and this can’t be stressed enough – we are not yet in post-Brexit Britain. Article 50 has been triggered but we have not yet left the EU, and once we have it will likely be another two years before we will feel any consequences.
The majority economic opinion at this point that is that such consequences will be decidedly negative for the economy of the UK. Most major economists, including from LSE, Oxford, and HM Treasury, have predicted drops in the UK GDP as a direct result of Brexit. The much-quoted £350 million we were supposed to save per week through leaving the EU has been reduced to £163 million, a fractional 1% of the UKs annual government budget. Meanwhile, the IFS predicts the cost of Brexit to the taxpayer will fall between £20 billion and £40 billion per year, far outweighing any savings made on money sent to Brussels. These enormous figures are based on an expected drop in economic activity dependent on cross-border trade between the UK and the EU-27 countries.
Young people, whose unemployment rate is already more than double that of the population as a whole, stand to lose more than most from any potential economic downturn. In 2008 it was young people who were hit the hardest by the recession, in terms of unemployment and the housing crisis, and were the ones who bore the brunt of the resulting austerity policies. So, in the negotiations of the UK’s new place in Europe, young people need to be a central part of the equation, in a way that they were not when 16-17 year olds were disqualified from voting in the EU referendum. Young people who, of those who were enfranchised, voted in the overwhelming majority to remain in the EU, are due at least some level of protection from the economic consequences of Brexit.
For some young people this protection predominantly involves keeping their entitlement to free movement of labour, and their ability to search for work outside the UK’s borders. For some young people this involves a continuing involvement in the Erasmus scheme, allowing them to gain experience outside the UK in order to relocate after university. Many of these people have embraced recent promises of an ‘opt-in’ clause allowing British citizens to keep their EU citizenship.
Unfortunately, this is not a real solution. This clause would not soften the economic consequences of Brexit, but would merely provide an escape route for individuals who have the means to leave post-Brexit Britain. If the same clause were offered for businesses, perhaps things would be different, as it could give them the opportunity to continue trading in Europe. Individual British members of the EU, on the other hand, could do little or nothing to stimulate the economy through their bond with Europe, leaving those who might remain in the UK to face hardship.
This should not trivialize the importance of the potential opt-in. For the 75% of young people that voted to remain last June, it is another chance to reaffirm their support for Europe. However, beyond this symbolism, the opt-in clause can do little to protect the economy from Brexit-related shocks. Therefore, protecting freedom of movement cannot be considered the most important issue for young people. Rather, it should be ensuring that the effects of Brexit are not entirely catastrophic, and that young people are not once again the subject of a further austerity agenda.
Above all, young people need assurances from whichever government leads on the post-Brexit agenda that, however much Brexit might cost Britain, any economic recovery programme would not again be built on measures that disproportionately affect young people. We need to know that the money the country loses will not be made up from higher university fees, or from Junior Doctors’ wages, or through cutting apprenticeship schemes, or housing benefit for young people. The list goes on. It is young people who stand to lose the most in Post-Brexit Britain, if things do take a turn for the worst. Our needs must be catered for.
Alex Chitty comes from Brighton and is currently living in Paris. She will be starting her Bachelors Degree in Politics in September where she hopes to pursue her particular interests in gender and human rights.
Disclaimer: the views expressed in guest blog posts are the views of the author and do not represent the views of the European Youth Parliament UK.