Young people should speak out in favour of the EU and try to convince their elders that Britain should not exit, according to Nicky Morgan, the education secretary.
Ms Morgan, a supporter of the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, will appeal to “parents and grandparents” not to vote to leave, warning in a speech in London on Tuesday that it would be a “gamble with their children and grandchildren’s future”.
Voting for a British exit would “risk a lost generation” as a consequent economic downturn and tighter travel rules would hit young people hardest, Ms Morgan will say.
Young people who miss their chance to vote in the referendum on June 23 risk “having their future decided by [other people],” Ms Morgan will say, adding: “Go out and make the case to others, in particular your older friends and relatives. Make sure they know what the vote means for you.”
Employers have already begun to put new hiring on hold as uncertainty builds, and young people will pay the highest price for lost investment into Britain, she will argue.
Employers are likely to cut back on creating entry-level jobs and young people will face greater competition for work from more experienced workers, according to Ms Morgan.
Investors’ concerns about the outlook for sterling are already at a six-year high as nervousness grows over the outcome.
“If Britain leaves Europe it will be young people who suffer the most, left in limbo while we struggle to find and then negotiate an alternative model,” Ms Morgan will say.
She will cite the example of last year’s Irish referendum on gay marriage, in which young people played a decisive role in persuading their older, more socially conservative friends and relatives to back change.
Young people also played a significant part in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, after the UK government took the unusual step of letting 16 and 17-year-olds vote. Both sides targeted young voters, producing an array of literature.
Polling suggests that younger people are noticeably more enthusiastic about Britain’s membership of the EU than older generations, meaning that they could play a big role in the outcome of the vote if they turn out.
Despite this, David Cameron has rejected the opportunity to offer 16 and 17-year-olds a chance to vote in the EU referendum. Although the prime minister had to engage in a bitter battle with the House of Lords over the issue, attempts to extend the franchise to a lower age group were eventually unsuccessful.
Remain campaigners are concerned about whether they can rouse young voters to get to the ballot box — a low turnout is widely expected to benefit Leave. A win for the Leave campaign because of the votes of older people would exacerbate intergenerational unfairness, Ms Morgan will warn.
If Britain leaves Europe it will be young people who suffer the most, left in limbo while we struggle to find and then negotiate an alternative model
Both sides of the EU campaign have spent recent weeks trying to define the terms of the debate in a manner most favourable to them. The Leave campaigners have sought to portray themselves as a populist insurgency, characterising themselves as “the peasants’ revolt” against “the establishment”.
Meanwhile, the Remain camp has repeatedly emphasised economic security as a factor in their arguments, contrasting that with what they call the Leave campaign’s “Trump-like” populism.
Much of the debate focuses on the economic prospects for Britain outside the EU. Work by several economic research groups suggests that leaving the bloc would have a significant cost for British households but, under certain conditions, those costs could be contained, they have suggested.
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