Seema Malhotra: If we get Brexit wrong, young people will pay the heaviest price
Young people will be hardest hit by the government’s approach to Brexit. It is for Theresa May to ensure she doesn’t sacrifice their futures on the altars of ideology, writes Seema Malhotra
The Tory party are looking for ways to reconnect with young people after a record that sees schools struggling with education cuts, mental health support services in crisis and students saddled with more debt than ever before.
The Conservative party Chairman, Brandon Lewis, said in The House magazine last week that the Tories would reach out to young people with a series of visits to universities. But there is a huge trust gap between the Conservatives and young people – with what the Tories say and what they do.
One area where there is not a shred of doubt is that young people, who voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the 2016 Referendum, will be hardest hit by the government’s approach to Brexit. We know that young people under 24 voted three to one against Brexit compared to a 60-40 split in favour of Leave among the over 60s.
No surprise then that a recent study by the LSE of 18-24-year olds showed that young people are “bemused, angry and resentful” as well as deeply concerned about the negative impact that leaving the EU will have on them. Parents in my constituency are increasingly saying the same.
Parliament is right to be concerned that a hard Brexit will be detrimental to young people’s economic and social opportunities and to do all we can to minimise the impact on young their chances. It is a highly competitive world in which they are growing up.
ONS figures from December showed 366,000 people aged 16-24 are now unemployed, 27,000 more than the previous quarter and significantly higher than the national average across other age groups.
The Government can try and dismiss the growing evidence of risks to our economy from Brexit but putting your head in the sand won’t save people’s jobs.
In the 18 months since the referendum, we have dropped from the top to the bottom of the G7 growth league table. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has said that each household is now paying more £600 a year since the referendum, while we are also paying 9.9% more on foreign holidays, 7.5% more on fuel.
This week has shown the government in staggering disarray. The Foreign Secretary has likened the Northern Ireland Border issue to the border “between Camden and Westminster”. Liam Fox’s own former permanent secretary, Sir Martin Donnelly said leaving the single market and the customs union was like “giving up a three-course meal now for the promise of a packet of crisps in the future.”
But as we debate the right for young people to vote at 16, perhaps over the next few weeks we will see a further awakening in the Tory party that a hard Brexit is currently set to take away rights from young people – to live, work, study across Europe – and that this will leave them with fewer opportunities than young people across the 27 other EU nations. I hope Parliament will move to protect the rights of young people as negotiations move forward. It is for May to ensure she doesn’t sacrifice their futures on the altars of ideology.
If Theresa May and her disciples get this wrong everyone will pay a price, but the cost will fall heaviest on the shoulders of those who have the fewest assets and who will live with the consequences the longest.
Seema Malhotra is Labour MP for Feltham and Heston and a member of the Exiting the EU select committee