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Carys Huws Brexit 2
Photography Carys Huws

We ask you how you feel about your referendum vote three years on

We asked Leave, Remain and no-voters whether they feel differently knowing what they know now

Because everything that has happened since Britain voted to leave the EU feels like a cyclical nightmare, it’s strange to think that a whole three years have passed. Families fell out over the vote, young people campaigned to cancel Brexit, and for a second referendum, MPs resigned, we protested – multiple times, Theresa May stepped down, Boris Johnson stepped in, a dodgy deal was struck, and here we are, just over a week away from it actually, finally, becoming a reality. And so many questions remain. Will Boris’ deal be approved by the UK government? How will this Ireland sea border manifest itself? And crucially, what will happen after we leave? 

Ahead of this weekend’s People’s Vote march in London, and ahead of October 31, we decided to ask you whether you voted in 2016, how you voted, and what you would do if you differently if you had the same chance again, knowing what you know now... 

BARNEY, 25, LONDON: “I VOTED LEAVE AND I STAND BY IT”

I voted Leave in the EU Referendum. I weighed it up for some time, and it was a pretty narrow decision but it’s one that I broadly stand by. I was concerned about us going too far from Europe but at the same time, I thought that it worked better for the UK not to be in the EU. The UK has the largest share of trade outside of the EU amongst any EU nations and with its historic ties to other parts of the world and being geographically closer to, say, the US, it has much more interest in striking those deals. Being an island nation, we aren’t as culturally bound into the European ideal as nations that have had wars over borders. I think that if the UK was to work properly in the EU, it would need to be a more integral part. It would need to take on a sort of role that Germany has, but I just don’t see that happening given the fact that we have so many exemptions, we’re a half-in country anyway, not being in Schengen, not being in the Euro. There’s quite a body of movement in the European Union for a European State and I don’t see how Britain’s continued membership works with that idea.

While I was pleased that we voted to leave, I think my biggest regret over this entire process is how much it’s divided the country. On the one hand, you have The Daily Mail types – “we crushed the saboteurs!” On the other, you have a group of people that never accepted the result of the referendum. Take the Lib Dems who, along with a considerable number of Labour MPs, voted for a referendum then voted not to trigger Article 50. You can say that they didn’t think it was the right time but you had the Lib Dems campaigning for another vote, or campaigning to reject the result of the referendum just days after. These two overly-passionate, single-minded groups have helped to create a horribly fractious culture. That’s my only regret. 

“Now that we’ve secured a deal, and once we leave, we can ask, finally, three years on, what kind of country do we want to be?” – Barney, 25, London

I know that we have seen a rise in reported hate crime, but I think I think there are two reasons. One, it’s reported more, which is a good thing. Two, I think we are seeing a wider shift across the Western world – liberal values are starting to lose out. Take the appalling racism we saw in the England-Bulgaria match or the rise of the far-right in America. Brexit may have given some people the confidence to think they can abuse minorities, but I don’t think it can be entirely put down to the vote, those people that felt that way always were there. People have built up racist tendencies over a long period of time for a multitude of reasons. If we tackled the reasons why those beliefs came up, then we’ll solve the problem. You wouldn’t solve it by just undoing Brexit. 

I have questioned whether I would still vote Leave but I think I’m balanced, the core issues are the same, even if I think there are still some questions to be answered over Northern Ireland. Ultimately, I think that now that we’ve secured a deal, and once we leave, we can ask, finally, three years on, what kind of country do we want to be? I think that the 31st will allow everyone to take a step back, detach ourselves from Brexit a bit and focus on other issues.

DANAI, 23, LONDON: “I COULDN’T VOTE BECAUSE I WASN’T BORN IN BRITAIN”

I moved to the UK from Greece in 2007. I’m 23, so I’ve lived in the UK for half of my life but only have an EU citizenship, so couldn’t legally vote. I would have voted remain. I’ve always felt welcome in this country, and I’ve grown up considering both Greece and the UK home. But since the EU Referendum, it feels like my home is trying to reject me. I’m annoyed that I couldn’t vote, not that it would’ve changed much. To me, the entire concept of leaving the EU was unreasonable, and the Leave voters didn’t really know what they were getting into. I’m always optimistic, so I’m not as concerned about my status in the country. I’m more concerned about the economy and the future of a “United Kingdom”. It feels like it’s currently falling apart. 

I’m in the process of completing my residency form which EU citizens can fill out to confirm residency in this country and, for now I guess, guarantee that you’ll stay. But I’m also concerned that when I say that I’m an EU national but not a UK national in a job application, there may be hesitation in hiring me. Now that the UK is leaving the EU family, I think it will definitely be more hostile towards immigrants and EU students that come to the UK to study. I mainly feel confused about what a post-Brexit UK will look like. If it gets too hostile I may decide to leave.

HOLLY, 21, WIDNES: “I’M PROTESTING THIS WEEKEND SO THAT I KNOW I DID EVERYTHING I COULD” 

I voted to remain in 2016. I felt lucky that I was able to vote given I had only turned 18 a month before the vote. I believed then and still believe the UK is better off in the EU. I was scared and worried about the unsettling rhetoric the Leave campaign was using and knew it would lead to deeper racism and divides in the country, something myself and a lot of young people I know were scared about. I voted to remain to give myself a chance at the best future, a future where I can travel and work freely in the EU and for the people worse off than myself who will, unfortunately, be the worst off from Brexit.

I feel exactly the same about my vote now, if not more passionate about remaining. I feel like those who have voted to leave have thrown away futures of young people in the country. I have older generations of my family who voted to leave and it does deeply upset me that they did not consider the concerns seriously of myself and the other young people in my family. 

I am going to the People’s Vote protest this weekend so that I know I personally did everything I could to hopefully bring about change. I want the government to look at the people protesting and listen for once. I hope that maybe it could begin to repair deep divides that I believe we have in this country due to Brexit, although unfortunately, I do believe it may be this way forever. I am going on the protest with my mum and it will be the first protest we’ve ever been on together so I am very excited about that. I feel very blessed that she cares so passionately, like me, about remaining in the EU. 

HOLLY, 20, GLASGOW: “I WISH I COULD HAVE VOTED BUT I WAS TOO YOUNG”

I'm 20 years old and I am yet to have a say on Brexit; I am yet to have a say in my own future. I was 17 when the referendum took place and I was, to put it lightly, angry, especially being mere months away from being able to vote. That anger I felt three years ago still resonates with me today. I am still frustrated that I couldn’t vote as I, along with other young people, will now face the punishing consequences in a future of doubt and uncertainty; a future our leaders can’t even anticipate. We face these consequences as a result of the mistakes made by a blind older generation. Had I been able to vote, I undoubtedly would have voted Remain. 

I had a handful of friends who were eligible to vote at the time but didn’t do so. This was the basis of many disagreements – not even in terms of their political views, I was just so distraught with the fact that they threw away this right that I so strongly longed for; this right that I knew I deserved. I also had similar disagreements with family members.

“How can we feel invested and engaged when it’s evident that so many of us are being dismissed, suppressed and disregarded?” – Holly, 20, Glasgow

I have struggled a great deal to remain interested in what’s been happening over the last three years. Of course, I still cared about what was going on and how we would all be affected, but I got to a point where I was so very sick of it all. The mere mention of ‘Brexit’ now triggers an overwhelming wave of anxiety within me (and, being from Northern Ireland originally, the word “backstop” will haunt me forever and a day). As someone who grew up in Spain, I can’t help but dwell upon how I took that for granted; how that if I were to have children, giving them a life outside of the UK may not be as easy as it was for my parents. Of course one of the first things I did post-Brexit was look into getting an Irish passport. Upon receiving it I felt some sort of escape from the whole ordeal – an escape that the majority of my friends from the rest of the UK cannot attain. It all feels so very unfair.

Remaining interested has been so tough when it feels as though politicians will do everything in their power to push us further and further away from political engagement. And for the Prime Minister himself to make efforts to make it harder for young people, and now with the new voter ID plan, for ethnic minorities and poorer people, amongst many others, to vote? How can we feel invested and engaged when it’s evident that so many of us are being dismissed, suppressed and disregarded? 

In terms of what is to come in the following weeks, above all else, I am afraid. The last three years of this torturous attempt to leave the EU have unravelled before us, and as every day goes by I feel more and more disgusted, ashamed and betrayed. We are about to step into the unknown, and it’s hard to believe that anyone at all truly knows what is to come. How can we expect the same politicians who cannot seem to handle the results of this referendum to deliver with the consequences of it, post-Brexit?

EMMA, 29, LONDON: “I VOTED TO REMAIN, NOW I JUST WANT LEAVE TO HAPPEN” 

I voted to remain in 2016. I felt that we were going through a global moment of fractioning and subdividing, which felt that a reactionary kickback to globalisation. Certain leaders and far-right groups were mobilising a kind of anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation rhetoric and I felt it was important to stay together. As a lawyer, I can see slightly both sides of the argument to stay or leave, so I think actually it was more emotional for me. I also think Britain has an important role to play in the EU itself and we have a responsibility there… maybe that’s quite an imperialist view but the EU is arguably the greatest peace project that’s ever existed, it was founded in the wake of World War Two and I think, well, it was just a commitment we’d made. However, just because I voted to remain, I don’t believe it’s a left versus right issue and I think what quite liberal people often forget to think about is that there are socialists and left-leaning arguments against the EU. It’s not as simple as forward-thinking liberals against backwards-thinking conservatives. 

At the moment, I’m concerned about the number of projects in our country that are just being ignored – so the NHS, education, welfare, all of these things, are deprioritised. I think we are going to reap destruction of that for many years. I think in only a few years time we will realise the impact of Brexit in those areas. So I would rather just leave now because I think this country is incredibly divided. I haven’t regretted the way I voted because that was an authentic way that I felt but I don’t think anyone anticipated the shit storm that we were walking into and I think in light of what’s happened, I now just want to leave. I don’t know if that’s quite defeatist, and I’m sure lots of people will be quite outraged by that, but I feel like my priorities have shifted and my priorities are not on Brexit any more. It’s like, what are we doing for the people in Britain who have been ignored for three years? 

BEN, 22, NORTH SOMERSET: “I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND ENOUGH TO VOTE”

I didn’t vote in the EU Referendum because I didn’t feel I knew enough information or understood it enough to give a vote. No one encouraged me to do it, and I don’t really think anyone around me, at my age at the time, understood it. I was working and at college, and it was such an intense subject, I just didn’t understand what would happen. None of my family spoke to me about it – no teachers, bosses or friends. I did vote in the last general election because I understood a little more about that than I did the referendum. I voted Conservative. Because I looked at different things from each party and felt I sided more with Conservative policies. I think Theresa May was a trooper, she was such a solid, strong-minded person. She took hit after hit! 

If I had another chance to vote whether or not to stay in the EU today, I’d probably vote to stay. I fear too much about us leaving, the lack of medications getting into the country, our economy. Just too many different things about leaving scare me. When I think about the 31st I feel terrified. Honestly terrified. I’m not sure what to expect.