‘It was ridiculous that 16-year-olds didn't get a vote’: teens protest after Brexit result

Hannah Booth
Amy Gibbs (left): ‘The Brexit vote brought out a new level of passion in me.’ Photograph: Isabel Infantes/PA

It was the day after the EU referendum; Brexit had won, David Cameron had resigned, and we were like: “Are you kidding?” It was a Friday and we weren’t at school, as we’d finished our GCSEs, so we looked on Facebook to see if there were any protests taking place. This photo was taken outside Downing Street later that day. It wasn’t a big march, as I think the result was still sinking in: just a few hundred of us congregating with banners, making our voices heard. It was my first protest.

It’s ridiculous that we, as 16-year-olds, weren’t given a vote. In the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote. I did the maths after the Brexit result, and based on the turnout of young voters in Scotland, if 16- and 17-year-olds had voted, the result would have gone the other way – just. A survey backed that up. Were we excluded on purpose? It makes you wonder. We weren’t really given a reason. Britain’s relationship with the EU affects our generation’s future more than anyone else’s – much more than a general election – so we should have had a say.

At our school, in south-east London, we had compulsory Citizenship GCSE. We learned about politics, the legal system, voting methods, the EU. We even had a mock referendum. The idea was to engage young people politically, before the distractions of university and adult life kick in. The Brexit vote brought out a new level of passion in me, and I’m already pretty political.

We made our placards at my friend Josephine Campling’s house – I’m on the far left in the picture, and she’s sitting next to me. On the other end is Tinashe Chani. Josephine’s mum is quite a campaigner, and she had all the kit, even a laminator. “Why you always lyin’?” was a line taken from a video that was going viral at the time. The sad faces that Tinashe and Josephine have stuck to their placards were being handed out. We felt upset and frustrated; we weren’t posing to look miserable. My friends are from Italy, Croatia, France, and I’m Irish. Crystal Palace, where I live, is incredibly diverse. Friends were worried about their parents’ jobs and futures.

Dozens of people were taking our photograph. A few days later, my mum saw a picture of us on Huffington Post. From then on, I was bombarded on Snapchat and Facebook with messages from people who’d spotted this photograph: in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, BBC, the Telegraph, London’s Evening Standard, and more. And it hasn’t just been used in newspapers: a friend in Oxford said it was shown at her school assembly; and it was shown during a government and politics A-level at my school. It’s something I’m really pleased about, because young people getting involved in politics is fantastically important.

That day, although we felt pretty hopeless, we somehow believed the result could change. I actually thought that, because of all the lies the Leave campaigners told, the result would somehow not be valid.

Today, we’ve learned to accept it, and feel that we must get the best possible Brexit to reduce the harm done to our country. We’re being realistic, but that doesn’t mean we care any less about it.

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