“Am I gonna sit here and say that Brexit is perfect, and your generation is gonna reap the benefits? No, I’m not, because you’re not, frankly, at the minute, and I can see that. We’ve got work to do…”
So said Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, addressing an audience of under-30-year-old Glaswegians. Lucky for him they were confined to quarters and on Zoom, because it was a tough crowd and I would not have fancied his chances with a live audience…
Now that the Tories have got what they want, every now and then the mask of their Brexit rictus grin slips, and one of them comes out and admits Brexit is not all they cracked it up to be. Depending on which MP or peer is talking, it will take anywhere from 10 years (according to Raab), to 50 (Mogg), to 100 hundred years (Digby Jones), before we recover from the shock of Brexit and start to see a benefit. Whether anything, after that long a period of time, can be attributed to Brexit is exceedingly doubtful. All economies recover eventually. I dare say ours will boom again one day, but that’s cold comfort to companies going under now, or to young people entering a job market of vanishing opportunities.
So far, nobody has come up with anything we can do outside the EU that we couldn’t do as members. Of course, there are a few dishonourable MPs who are telling whopping lies and pretending that we couldn’t, say, have freeports (Sunak), or our Covid-19 vaccination programme (Hancock), or trade with far flung emerging markets (Raab – again) inside the EU, but that simply is not the case. Meanwhile, there are plenty of things we can no longer do, and the loss of these rights and freedoms will hit the poor and the young the hardest.
What a time to be alive. Imagine being poor and young. A double whammy, and not in a good way. I came from a working-class background, but I never before had the impression that my government was deliberately acting against my interests. Yet since the Tories returned to power, they have steadily chipped away at the hopes and dreams of British youth. Labour introduced tuition fees, the Liberal Democrats broke a pledge not to back government plans to increase them, but it was the Tories who raised them sky-high. With living expenses to cover too, a degree now costs at least £50,000. Imagine taking on that level of debt with no assurance that there will be a job commensurate with your qualifications when you graduate.
Even before Brexit, then, the Tories had made life that much harder for our young people, the future of our country. Who could envisage that things would get so much worse after Brexit? The biggest blow is, of course, the removal of our freedom of movement rights. Priti Patel crowed about ending it. She was delighted. People’s lives were ruined at a stroke, and Priti Patel rejoiced. For whom did she end freedom of movement? Just us 66 million Brits. Citizens of the other 27 EU member states and four EFTA states still have it amongst themselves. They’ve only lost those rights in one country: ours. We’ve lost it in 31 countries. Thirty-one!
With that loss, the democratisation of opportunity has taken a massive hit. There has been one news report after another of how young people have lost the opportunity to go abroad for working holidays; during the ski season, for example. “Who cares?” say Brexiters. “That’s a middle-class problem.” Except it isn’t. Tarquin and Camilla are more likely to be staying in the ski chalet than cleaning it out, serving at the bar or selling tat in the gift shop. These are working class jobs and opportunities that are being lost. Sure, those kids are working in a privileged setting: but privilege needs a lot of hard-working people to keep it going.
One of the advantages of taking a menial job abroad is the opportunity to learn a language, which might give you an edge in going for a better job back home. Plus, there are perks, such as learning to ski in your free time. Why should sports like that be the exclusive domain of the middle and upper classes? Why shouldn’t enterprising working-class kids who have found themselves a job abroad not have some fun? Thank you so much, Brexiters, for closing down that avenue of social mobility (and fun) for young working-class people.
Creativity is another avenue of social mobility for many, and it is an arena in which Britain punches above its weight, with our cultural exports of music, film/TV and fashion, to name but a few: beloved around the world and netting a whopping £111.7 billion for the UK economy in 2018 (the latest year for which data for the industry is available). That was 5.8 per cent of GVA (gross added value) for the UK as a whole. Has our government opted for a Brexit that not only locks in the contribution of these industries, but also paves the way for future growth? Let’s take a look.
Taking music as an example, the EU offered the UK its standard mobility clause for creatives, as contained in some of its other free trade agreements (FTAs), such as the one with Canada. You know the Canada FTA. It’s the one our government banged on and on about for years before Brexit. “Give us Canada!” they demanded. How bizarre, then, that they should shy away from a provision that’s in Canada’s FTA, then lie about it. They pretended that curbs on mobility were all the EU’s fault. Finally, they made the snivelling admission that by putting their pure version of Brexit first, they have set our brilliant British music industry on the road to decline. Sure, it’s a slow puncture, but decline is inevitable unless this inept government bucks up its ideas and starts governing in the interest of British people instead of its harmful ideology.
What all this means is that musicians from Canada now have more rights to ply their trade in the important European market than British musicians do, despite the European mainland being on our doorstep. That is a significant competitive disadvantage for the UK. Our domestic market is too small to support all of our musicians and their crew. Touring is how they hone their craft. While established stars might be able to afford the staggering costs that touring now entails, that won’t be the case for unestablished or new musicians. That means fewer of the (as yet) unestablished or newly emerging musicians will achieve success. Furthermore, British roadies and crew of even established musicians will be shut out too, as stars will be forced, due to cost and new Brexit bureaucracy, to work only with EU staff.
Despite dozens of petitions to restore freedom of movement for musicians at the very least, the government has batted these appeals away. Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage was wheeled out to break the news that doing the necessary “is not consistent with Brexit.” This is worse than puritan kill-joy Oliver Cromwell outlawing dancing, singing, theatre, and even Christmas —in essence, shutting out all the joy in life. Dinenage, clearly one of his spiritual descendants, went back to the former line of blaming the EU, before letting slip that the UK had rejected the EU proposal because it covered a wide range of industries besides music. It was the reciprocal element that spooked our Europe-hating government — it looked too much like ‘Freedom of Movement’.
A manifesto commitment to end freedom of movement is not a good excuse if, arguably, it should never have been in your manifesto to begin with. Polling for ‘retaining freedom of movement’, discussed in our earlier article, “Ending free movement — the Brexiter shibboleth that assaults our freedom, prosperity and security”, consistently showed a majority over sixty per cent to retain it in the years following the Brexit vote –way higher than the slim majority who voted for Brexit back in 2016. That big a majority is only possible if a significant portion of Leave voters agreed. Holding on to that precious right and freedom was more the will of the people than Brexit ever was.
The fall-out of our government’s disastrous policy is not just confined to working class kids who take menial jobs abroad to improve their language skills or who find an outlet in creative expression. Services contribute 80 per cent to our economy, and many service-related jobs require freedom of movement. Take the engineering company that manufactures its product at a loss and makes up that, and more, by bundling services with it. Before Brexit, it could send out one of its British engineers to perform the service anywhere in the EU. Now it will have to hire an EU citizen to do that work. Great if you’re a dual national with two passports, including an EU one, not so great if you’re a British citizen with only a blue passport to your name. Over time, as British engineers get less varied work, they will lose their competitive edge.
Becoming a second-class citizen on their own continent is the fate that awaits all young British people who only hold a British passport, thanks to this Conservative government. Already, ads are appearing for jobs, from acting to management consulting, stating that Brits who lack an EU passport need not apply. One of the most stunning examples of this was when a production company casting the role of Prince William for a film about Princess Diana stipulated that holders of British-only passports should not apply.
It is unforgiveable that the Tories pushed Brexit through, knowing the dislocation it would cause, in the midst of a pandemic, in the hope they could hide Brexit damage and instead blame it on Covid-19. On top of their job prospects being dampened due to Brexit, young people have borne the brunt of our inept government’s mishandling of the pandemic. Highlights include Gavin Williamson’s free school meal cruelty, Gavin Williamson’s exam fiasco, Gavin Williamson forgetting all about BTECs and messing them up too, Gavin Williamson’s university admissions chaos and Gavin Williamson replacing Erasmus+ with a poor substitute (the Turing scheme), which is only of use to the rich. Oddly, unlike many young people, Gavin Williamson is still in a job.
Young students have spent a lamentable year of being confined to student accommodation, with hardly any face-to-face tuition and none of the social experiences that enrich higher education, but still having to pay full tuition fees. Those young people not studying have also had their lives put on hold with job opportunities vanishing, the ability to move out from the parental nest curtailed and a solitary life away from friends putting a tremendous strain on their mental health. Sure, it’s been hard on all of us, but think back to your youth — that’s the time to be going out, socialising, making new friends, falling in love, enjoying the joys of life. Covid-19 has been particularly hard on our youth.
Is the government dreaming up schemes to improve the lot of our young people? Not a bit of it. They’re still doing their all to make young people’s lives a misery. Now Priti Patel in particular, and the Conservative party in general, want to silence our young people. Having banged on about ‘cancel culture’, which they interpret as a student union exercising its free speech policy and deciding not to allow some far-right numpty to use their platform to preach hate and division, the government has decided to cancel young people’s voices altogether by removing their right to protest. And all this against a backdrop of the Right cancelling any BBC comedy show that pokes fun at them.
How long before the young realise that there are more of them than there are members of our tawdry government? When they do eventually rise up against this repressive regime, we must be there beside them, helping to keep them out of trouble, but supporting their cause in every democratic, lawful way possible.