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Seven years on: what do young Brits think of Brexit vote?

Young Remain supporter in Ireland.
Young Remain supporter in Ireland. Copyright Peter Morrison/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Peter Morrison/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Estelle Nilsson-Julien
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Four Brits who were aged 14-19 when the Brexit referendum took place in 2016 speak to Euronews about how Brexit has changed their lives. They are now aged 21-26.

Liv's story

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It's 23 June 2016 and Liv Stobart is 15 years old. She has just finished her summer exams but is awaiting a much bigger result.

As her sister scuttles into her room crying, her heart sinks. 52% out, 48% in. The UK has voted to leave the European Union.

A moment which Liv has never forgotten. 

“I felt shocked and disheartened. I had no say in my future. It was a bewildering day. I still feel angry but I don’t think holding another referendum is the answer because you have to respect the will of the majority. However, I would like to think there will be more options one day. Why not European visas for under-35s for instance?”

Liv grew up in Scotland, where 62% of people voted to remain. 

Since Brexit, she has thought a lot about the merits of Scottish independence. “I am more in favour of independence now - with the prospect of rejoining the EU in mind - than before. 

"But I also look at the mess Brexit has caused after 70 years of partnership and think what havoc independence would wreak given Scotland's 400 year partnership with the UK!”

Seven years on, Liv is still vocal about Brexit. "I had a big debate with my boss a few months ago. He voted Leave and has two young teenagers. I know we’ve led different lives, but I turned to him and was like don’t you realise that they may want to move to Europe one day?"

But for Liv - unlike many others - there is a way out. She has French relatives and is currently applying for a passport. “I am so lucky to not be blocked like so many other young people. As soon as I get my French passport I am moving!”

Tom's story

Tom Portsmouth recalls finishing up a bike race on Belgium cobbles when the referendum results were announced. 

“I was only 14 years old but I was already working towards my dream of becoming a professional cyclist. I had no idea what was coming for me." 

Moving to Europe for bike racing was formerly a well-trodden route for British cyclists looking to make it as professionals. But since Brexit, cyclists must now sign a lucrative contract with a team in order to get a residency visa. A tall order for young athletes starting out their careers. 

"My non-cyclist friends often tell me to stop talking about Brexit - but I can't. It affects my career, dreams and life every single day.”

Ian Wrightson
Cyclist Tom Portsmouth on a ride.Ian Wrightson

European legislation stipulates that Brits can only spend 90 days at a time in Europe on a tourist visa. This means that Tom spends much of his time ferrying back and forth for specific events. 

“I can’t race for six months of the racing season calendar. People don't understand the financial, physical and emotional cost of it all."

"I worry that teams will stop taking on young Brits - and instead take European riders - because of the administrative pain involved." Tom currently races for Belgian team Bingoal Wallonie Bruxelles Continental Development Team.

After more than three years of negotiations, Britain formally exited the European Union on 20 January 2021. For a window of time, Brits were still able move to Europe and apply for a form of residency - but Tom was not able to do this due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I couldn't go out and settle in Europe as a pre-resident because the pandemic kicked off and it was impossible to travel. That was another opportunity missed. But that won't stop me for chasing my dreams for now."

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Zak's story

"I was in my last year of school when Brexit happened and I voted to leave the European Union", says Zak Butler down the crackly line on his drive to work as a primary school teacher.

"I remember being so happy with the result. When you vote on something and it goes through you get an initial sense of shared pride and satisfaction with all the people." 

Many of Zak's friends and family voted Leave - as did the majority of his Conservative constituency which is located near Portsmouth.

Seven years on, Zak wonders whether he would make the same decision today. According to a May 2023 YouGov poll, two-thirds of Leave voters believe Brexit has been more of a failure than a success.

"I was young and not very knowledgeable about politics. Brexit was not planned for - and one of the reasons for this was that the Leave campaign wasn’t totally truthful in its promises."

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"I care a lot about the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service) but promises of providing it with more funding were false. I was disappointed." 

The Conservative government pledged to fund the NHS with an extra £350 million per week post-Brexit - but this did not materialise.

Over the years, debating Brexit has got Zak into some heated discussions. "Some people blame the referendum result on my individual vote because the margin was so tight. Younger friends who weren't able to vote also get upset. Usually if I am going out with a new group of people I tend to try and find out their opinions beforehand to avoid things getting too heated.'

Despite his doubts, Zak still believes Brexit could bring some positive changes. 

"I don’t like to be proven wrong", he says with a giggle. "I think the fact that the UK was able to get COVID-19 vaccines quicker than the rest of the EU is one of the big benefits I've seen."

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"I would love to work in an international school in Europe but that opportunity is probably gone. However, I can still look at working in Canada, New Zealand, Australia instead."

For Zak, only time will tell what Brexit beholds. "You'll have to interview me again in 15 years!", his last words before he hangs up.

Hugo's story

Hugo was still at school when the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016. He recalls his upset when the results came in "I felt saddened because I had absolutely no control over the decision."

A passionate musician and trumpeter, Hugo went on to study jazz music at a British university. "When I finished my degree I didn’t have a specific plan but I had been idealizing moving to Europe for a while."

He took the leap last September, moving to Barcelona for a two-year masters in modern music and jazz. However, once the joy of being admitted to a prestigious music conservatoire in Barcelona faded, the administrative nightmare began.

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Chloe Langmuir
Hugo Ellis from London moved to Spain last September.Chloe Langmuir

"I had to get a lawyer to help me compile documents and get them translated - before even moving abroad I had spent about £500 on all of this. Next year I will also have to get health insurance which is going to cost about £500."

"Without paying for all of this, I wouldn’t have been able to go. Thankfully I'm on a student visa which also allows me to work." 

For now, Hugo intends on making the most of his time in Spain - as he knows staying on once he is no longer a student will be difficult.

"I would like to get granted a freelancer visa to stay but realistically I will have to be a pretty famous musician by the time I leave to get that", he says laughing.

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