In this article, we set out the six priorities that we think are critical to ensuring that Brexit works in a way that will lead to more confident young citizens able to take their full part in society.
The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is likely to lead to the most profound change to our system of politics and democracy in a generation. The Citizenship Foundation works to strengthen our democracy by equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to become active, engaged and effective citizens. Many young people are more engaged in political issues as a result of the referendum, but need support to engage with our democratic structures and institutions. For today’s generation of school children – even those who are primary school – the process of Brexit will dominate their childhood years. They are the ‘Brexit generation’.
Our priorities for Brexit are as follows:
- Young people’s voices are listened to in the run up to, and during, the negotiation period. Many young people, particularly those under 18, felt that they had no say in the referendum outcome. Yet the Brexit ‘deal’ will have greater impact for them than any other age group. Politicians should listen to young people’s priorities for Brexit, and respond to these during the negotiations. This should include ensuring that the specific voices of young people in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, are heard.
- Brexit should be used an opportunity to strengthen our democracy, so that people feel that they can have influence over politics – going far beyond simply casting a vote every few years. We would like to see the government draw up a new ‘Citizenship Compact’ with the purpose of setting out people’s rights and responsibilities to take part in our democracy.
- A specific programme of action needs to be implemented by the government to counter the rise in intolerance and hate crime which has been reported since the Brexit referendum result. A small minority of people have used Brexit as an excuse to unleash xenophobic and racist attacks. This needs a strong government-coordinated response.
- Opportunities for cross-cultural collaboration with our close European neighbours should be protected and strengthened. We’d like to see the UK continue to be part of programmes such as Erasmus Plus, and to welcome European students to our colleges and universities.
- The citizenship curriculum in schools must continue to be outward facing – teaching young people about European and global institutions, and shouldn’t become inward-looking. We believe global citizenship – understanding global issues and taking action to create a fairer world – should continue to be a key part of understanding of what it means to be a citizen.
- A programme of democratic reform should be considered alongside Brexit, to encourage participation. This could include a drive to ensure all young people are included on the electoral register, votes for 16-17 year olds following the experience in the Scottish independence referendum, and even compulsory voting – as is the case in Australia, and also jury service here in the UK – could be considered, in accordance with the responsibilities that citizens have alongside their rights.