By Spencer Feingold
With British lawmakers locked in a stalemate over whether and how the UK will withdraw from the European Union, young people in Britain are mobilizing to demand a voice in the decisions that will affect the course of their country.
“The reality is most politicians are out of touch with us,” Mete Coban, the CEO of the youth-led non-partisan group My Life My Say (MLMS), told Cheddar on Monday, adding that Brexit negotiations have been dominated by the “Westminster elite.”
MLMS was founded in 2013 as a non-profit that aims to engage young people in democracy and facilitate open dialogue across communities and generations.
In recent years, the group has largely focused its activism on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union in an effort to make sure young people's views are not overlooked during the Brexit process.
“When you look at the wide range of stakeholders that exist, whether it is the business community or champions of citizens' rights, I think young people fall at the bottom of that list,” Coban said.
Untangling the UK from the EU has turned out to be far more complex than pro-Brexit advocates claimed it would be. Just last week, Parliament rejected a second deal proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May and voted to delay the withdrawal. May will request a postponement from European leaders in Brussels later this week.
One of the major sticking points for lawmakers has been the free movement of people and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.
“The idea of having borders doesn’t exist for our generation,” Coban said. He also expressed concern for international programs such as Erasmus, which facilitates study abroad exchanges across Europe.
MLMS has taken their concern directly to Parliament. In January 2017, the group established the “Better Brexit for Young People” parliamentary group, which lobbies lawmakers to incorporate youth perspectives in Brexit negotiations.
“Young people will live with the outcome of Brexit the longest and therefore should have a voice in how the negotiations are shaped,” MLMS said in its proposal to Parliament.
The group is also pressuring the government to hold a second referendum on the UK’s withdrawal. During the first vote in June 2016, young people voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU.
“We should go back to the people,” Coban said. “Go back for a second referendum and allow millions of young people who were unable to vote the first time around, specifically those who were 16 or 17, [to] have their say about their future.”
MLMS is supporting a major rally this Saturday in London titled “Put it to the People.”. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators calling for a second vote are expected to descend on British parliament.
Yet despite the political difficulties in recent years, Coban says that one positive has been the increased activism and political engagement of young people.
“Any lawmaker, decision maker, or politician who doesn't take young people seriously will face the consequences in the forthcoming elections,” he warned.
For full interview click here.