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Leonid Bershidsky

Brexit Traps British Youth on an Island

Attitudes toward mobility may explain the generation gap in the Brexit vote.
Have passport, will travel.

Have passport, will travel.

Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The growing number of racist incidents in the U.K. since the Brexit referendum shows in the direst possible way that this was a vote on immigration, rather than the European Union's alleged insidious plot to build an undemocratic superstate. That explains why young people voted overwhelmingly to "remain," while older ones backed "leave": Mobility, both inbound and outbound, is essential to the younger generation -- in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe.

Academics have long talked about an "Erasmus generation," named after an EU-funded international student exchange program and carrying the seeds of a new European identity. Terms such as "superdiversity" and "post-multiculturalism" have been used to describe this group of young people. More recently, however, the notion of a "European capacity" has emerged. Young Europeans of various nationalities speak different languages and their cultural heritage isn't common, but they can "successfully manage linguistic and cultural identities and diversity as well as the ability to achieve unity in diversity," as Annelies Messelink and Jan D. ten Thije put it in a 2012 paper. These youth are inquisitive and adaptive.