Age divide in EU debate



The contentious topic of a referendum on European Union membership recently came to the fore following MPs’ debates. Though the movement was stopped in its tracks, many Conservatives favoured putting forth a referendum, as their constituents clamoured for a reconsideration of Britain’s European ties. Highlighted in several headlines, a number of polls showed that most Britons favoured a referendum, and a large number sought to pull out of the EU altogether. Interestingly, however, young voters overwhelmingly supported continued membership in the EU.

An ICM poll found that just 28 per cent of the youngest voters, aged 18-24, would choose to leave the EU. This compared with 63 per cent of those aged 65 and over who would vote to leave. The views of party members further reflect the notion that a significant difference of opinion exists between the two age groups. A majority of Tory voters – 56 per cent – would vote to leave the EU compared to 34 per cent that would prefer to stay in. Among Labour members and Liberal Democrats, a majority of voters would choose to remain within the EU.

“Membership in the EU has allowed young people the freedom to travel, study and work in unique and
fascinating areas”

Older voters may be more resistant to continued membership in the EU since they remember a time in which Britain was not shackled by its agreements with other EU member states. However, most young people have only known Britain in its role as a member of the greater European community. In addition, many young Britons have benefited from EU grants and embraced the benefits of the European community. According to a recent report by the European Commission on Young People, younger voters tend to be more optimistic about the European Union’s future than do older generations.

Membership in the EU has allowed young people the freedom to travel, study and work in unique and fascinating areas within the region. These opportunities have helped many young people enhance their career prospects and gain a more holistic understanding of the dynamics of the international community. Many programmes and grants currently available to British students may disappear if Britain were to extract itself from the European Union.

Though the motion was ultimately rejected, support for a referendum appears high, and the generational clash of opinion surrounding Britain’s membership in the EU will greatly affect future movements to bring about a referendum on the issue.

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