The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

British millennials like me are the real losers in the Brexit vote

Decades of chaos have been unleashed by a generation of voters that barely possesses the digital literacy to use a USB stick.

British travelers in a Paris train station have mixed reactions to the outcome of the historic referendum back home to leave the European Union. (Video: Reuters)

Today has been a day of bitterness, resentment and betrayal for British millennials like me. Overnight, my generation has lost the right to call ourselves Europeans, as well as the right to live, love and work in the 27 other countries of the European Union. Among the many divisions the referendum has revealed in the U.K., the chasm between generations is becoming the most pronounced. While the Leave campaign achieved a two-point victory in the referendum, 75 percent of voters between 18 and 24 wanted to remain.

For all intents and purposes, the referendum result is just the latest in a series of attacks on my generation’s future. First came the financial crisis, caused by poor decision-making on the part of baby boomers across the world. Soon after came austerity measures that disproportionately affected young people in favor of protecting British pensions. Now we are being forced from the European Union — against the wishes of the vast majority of young people — in an attack from a generation that will live to see very little of its consequences.

How the Brexit vote represents the Americanization of British politics

The last time Britain had a referendum on its E.U. membership, back in 1973, the parents of my generation weren’t even old enough to vote. Being European has always been a given for us; most people my age had never questioned or doubted the future of U.K.-E.U. relations until this referendum campaign began. And why would we? Most of us recognize that we have more in common with young people in Spain or the Netherlands than we do with the older folks who share our British nationality.

There’s a natural divide between generations around the world: There are those of us who grew up with the Internet, and those whose lives go largely unaffected by anything digital or global in nature. We’ve grown up believing in a future that transcends national borders because we experience that world in our work, interests and social lives online. Today, the future we imagined was stolen from us.

Over the course of a single night, baby boomers have rejected expert opinion and torn apart my generation’s future. Why? Because a vague notion of making our country “great again,” combined with an infectious hysteria about immigration, was enough to convince them that things have to change. They were so convinced, in fact, that they were happy to vote for Leave without any definition of what “great” looks like, and no road map to actually achieving it.

The Brexit debate has made Britain more racist

The situation becomes clearer and starker as the hours pass. Faced with the reality of Brexit, the Leave campaign has wasted no time in backtracking on their promises to restrict immigration and redirect our £350 million weekly E.U. contribution to the National Health Service. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, is already set on fast-tracking Britain’s exit against the wishes of our divided Conservative government.

Decades of uncertainty and political chaos have been unleashed by a generation of voters that barely possesses the digital literacy to use a USB stick correctly. As a result, our Parliament will spend years ignoring the tangible problems of ordinary people while they renegotiate long-held treaties that simply don’t need fixing. The vital resources that could deliver opportunity and prosperity for my generation will now be spent grasping for the little negotiating power the U.K. has left. The hope? That these crumbs of power can be used in a desperate battle for rapid agreement on new trade deals.

Google has reported a dramatic increase in searches for Irish passport applications since the Leave result became clear this morning. If the conversations I’ve had today are anything to go by, the next big decision for baby boomers will be how to pay for their pensions when my generation pack up their bags to abandon the sinking ship that the U.K. has just become.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece misstated how often Britain contributes to the E.U. It is £350 million weekly, not annually.