Fritz Groothues

48% and 27 countries



Somebody compared Brexit to a dog who got onto a bus without having thought what to do next. This is a pretty accurate image of a country that is almost too stunned to ask the question “What now?”, unable to make up its mind what price is worth paying for this glorious day of independence.


There is no shortage of ambitious but meaningless statements about what Brexit means. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talks about “seizing the opportunities that this country now has to forge a positive and exciting new relationship, not just with Europe, but also with the rest of the world, changing Britain and making it global again.” On the other hand David Davis, Minister for Brexit and usually very bullish about the subject, admits that “this will be the most complicated negotiation of all time.”


The ‘phoney’ stage of Brexit is marked by a deep fear of saying anything specific, let alone committing to a timetable. When Donald Tusk, after a meeting with Theresa May, suggested that Article 50 might be triggered at the beginning of 2017, Downing Street quickly claimed that this was just an interpretation of their conversation.


This general feeling of not knowing what to do next is also widespread among the 48% who voted to remain in the EU. There is still a sense of gloom and puzzlement about the result: how was the Leave campaign with its populist anti-immigration rhetoric able to outmanoeuvre the Remainers so thoroughly? Were there really no better people to make the case for the EU than David Cameron/George Osborne and Jeremy Corbyn?


There have been protests and demonstrations by pro-EU groups, and there has been a T-shirt with the slogan “We are the 48%”, (to which the simple answer is “We are the 52%”), but overall the mood is one of powerlessness and resignation.


However, solid reasons exist for a more positive outlook, if we remember some important points:


  • 48%, almost half of the UK, are pro-European
  • This attitude is particularly strong among 18 to 24 year olds, 75% of whom voted to remain in the EU
  • The 27 remaining EU states did not want the UK to leave and favour a continuing relationship with Britain. It helps that English is the common language of communication within Europe.


Over the past decades, and this was an important factor in the Brexit vote, the EU has emphasised economic regulation and control by the European institutions, rather than links between Europeans of different nationalities. It became very clear that the notion of control (‘edicts from Brussels’) and national sovereignty was one of the main considerations for people to vote leave. For them Brexit did not imply any loss at all – what they lost was the – perceived – control from Brussels, thereby regaining their autonomy as a nation. At least that is what they thought.


By contrast, most young voters feel angry that they have been cut off from fellow Europeans, that the freedom to travel, study and work in Europe has suddenly been taken away, amounting to a betrayal by the older generation who voted to leave the EU.


We need to make sure that, whatever Brexit means, young Britons should not have their European options closed off. That is why, during this stage of the Brexit limbo, efforts of pro-Europeans everywhere must focus on nurturing links, particularly for young people, between Britain and the 27 EU countries,.


For UK educational institutions, this means, for instance, that schools, colleges and universities could foster relationships with their counterparts in the rest of Europe. Many students have benefited from the Erasmus programme – it should be used as much as possible before the UK leaves, and there is no reason why a specifically British-European type of successor scheme could not be devised.


For the European institutions a new priority should be the creation of European networks for a whole range of sectors, particularly for young people. This applies of course to education but also, for instance, to the media and sport. Without creating a new sense of commonality between European citizens many other initiatives are doomed to fail.


Author :


  1. Quite a fair analysis and true if the assumption is made that the EU intends to become a single state and a global power (with all that entails). Not simply a trading block.
    The referendum was not democratic as is pointed out, but then the UK democracy is based on a simple majority and parliamentary sovereignty.
    There is a constitutional issue with the action seen to be taken by the present government but at least it is an action that has arisen out of a consultation of the electorate. It’s difficult to see the EU addressing its own democratic deficit in a similar manner and yet it could.

  2. Fritz Groothues, like many Europhiles, is selective with his facts. The bottom line is the referendum was for the British people to decide. There is no point in complaining about the result if you do not take part in it. I am of course referring to the young (18-24 year olds) which Fritz makes such a song and dance about. It is all very well to say that 75% voted to remain in the EU which rather hides the fact that of those eligible to vote only 36% bothered to exercise their democratic right. This is in fact not new and is also a trend in General Elections.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Not sure about the 36% figure though. It comes from Sky Data and seems to be based on people’s intention to vote, not on whether they actually voted. Ipsos Mori says the turnout for 18-24 year olds was 60%, and Prof Michael Bruter and Dr Sarah Harrison from the LSE give an even higher figure of 64%.

    1. Thank you for your reply. My figures came from the Independent Newspaper, “Young people – if you’re so upset by the outcome of the EU referendum, then why didn’t you get out and vote?
      It has been estimated that only 36 per cent of people in the 18 – 24 year old category voted in the EU referendum. 64 per cent of young people did not bother to take themselves down to the polling station and place their vote

      1. Those figures were indeed based on the problematic Sky Data poll, as reported by the Independent on 10th July (EU referendum: Turnout among young voters ‘almost double’ initial reports).

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