Let 16 and 17 year olds vote in the EU referendum

A decision to leave the EU, for those who want to, would most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  For those who don't, the decision to stay in the EU is also likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  It will affect the lives everyone in the UK, particularly working people and those looking to go into work in the near future.  It will affect jobs, prospects and more - for better or for worse, depending on your view of the EU.  But it is certain that the outcome of an EU referendum will affect young people.  And that is why 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to have a say.

The Scottish independence referendum is brought up frequently in this debate, and for good reason.  The independence referendum was a success.  Perhaps not from the point of view of the losing 45%, but for politics and democracy it was a success.  According to an ICM survey, 75% of 16 to 17 year olds voted in the referendum.  Compare that to the recent general election - the turnout was 66%.  This statistic alone completely denounces the idea that young people are not interested in politics, particularly when it matters to them and affects them directly.  So why shouldn't they be allowed to vote in the EU referendum?

I can think of no good reason as to why they shouldn't.  One may argue that as they can't vote in the general election, why should they be able to vote in referendums?  Referendums; the Scottish independence referendum and the EU referendum are different.  They are important and, as I previously mentioned, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to affect the long term future of the country.  16 and 17 year olds should be able to vote.

By: Toby Gould

Let 16 and 17 year olds vote in the EU referendum Let 16 and 17 year olds vote in the EU referendum Reviewed by Admin on 14:38 Rating: 5


  1. 'But it is certain that the outcome of an EU referendum will affect young people. And that is why 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to have a say.' I disagree with your line of logic for basing your decision. The EU referendum will affect EVERYONE in and outside Britain whether directly or indirectly. Are you also suggesting that EU citizens should be given the vote? I also disagree with this because it's a national referendum for British citizens and if EU citizens want a vote then they should pressurize their own national government for a referendum on the matter regardless if they live in Britain or not if they're not a British citizen. Also, what is the exact definition of 'young'? Everyone has a different interpretation of what age is considered 'young' and you end up falling into the risk of encouraging a 'race to the bottom', much like when exam paper agencies such as AQA, WJEC, etc lower their standards for their exam papers to encourage more schools and students to take their exam over their competitors, Similarly, we could reduce the age to 16/17 year olds and later down the line we could be debating whether to give 14/15 year olds the vote too, then 12/13 year olds, you get the idea. Also, the referendum will affect 14/15 year olds just as much as 16/17 year olds proponents would argue, and some would even go further to argue that some 14/15 year olds are more knowledgeable on the matter than some of their contemporaries who are of higher age than them. The debate will never end, a 1 year old budding Nigel Farage will grow up in the future calling for a referendum on the basis their generation has never had a vote, would you therefore also be in favor of having national referendums held every 5 years for example? The fact of the matter is you can't please everyone in life, that's a given surely you understand that? That is even more true in the realm of politics given how controversial it is and the wide range of opinions. There has to be a line drawn somewhere, and leaving the voting franchise in its current form is the right decision in the long run, in my opinion.

  2. On another point, politicians likely only see this as a populist policy vote winner as opposed to agreeing with it on principle (i would wager) I would also wager that politicians have the idea that young people and students are much more likely to stay in the EU than to leave because they will have been brought up having no knowledge of life outside the EU and have probably been brought up being told the benefits of the EU. I may be sceptical and I could be wrong, but I do believe politicians are doing this for all the wrong reasons. I believe they see this as a sort of 'fast track' to encouraging more young people into politics when I'd wager that won't happen at all. Sure if given the chance they may vote in this referendum like they did in the Scottish one but there's no telling whether they would have such wide raging participation in the future come future elections. It's a populist vote winner policy in my opinion, even if deep down they might disagree with it.

    1. Well, for start it isn't just 'young people' who are more likely to vote to stay in the EU 'because they have grown up with it'. The majority of the population of this country has grown up in the EU and the majority of the people in this country haven't had a say on whether or not they want to remain a part of it (the last referendum on the issue was 1975, as I'm sure you know). The current franchise of voting at 18+ should not be adjusted for general elections; that is a privileged that should be reserved for adults.

      However, your view that allowing 16-17 year olds, to whom I refer when I say 'young people' (just to answer your question on that point') will not encourage more young people into politics, or at least to get engaged in politics, is wrong - something that the Scottish referendum proved undoubtedly. I think you do doubt the common sense of general people - 16 year olds are able to get married, get a job etc. 14 year olds are not - I don't think there will be a problem of a 'race to the bottom' as you suggest.

      In regards to referendums in general - every 5 years would seem odd considering such referendums only come about when there is a pressing national issue which requires the public to make a decision on. Surely you recognise that there are flaws in parliamentary democracy and therefore it is only fair and democratic that the people get a say on things that directly concern them, when their MPs may not be representative of the wide variety of views that exist on such matters. The referendums we have are right - an EU referendum at this time is right, the AV referendum in 2010 was right, although executed poorly, and the Scottish independence referendum last year was right. If we choose to remain in the EU, and in 20 years or so things have changed, along with the national mood, dramatically (which they have since the last referendum in 1975) then yes, it is right we have a referendum.

      As I say, the voting age should be lowered only for referendums such as these - it proved a success in Scotland and will prove a success on the EU.

  3. You're right I gave off the wrong impression when I said that they're more likely to vote to stay in because that's all they've ever known, as you said a lot of the population is in the same position. Let me put it another way then, it's no secret that young people and students particularly are traditionally left-wing (if you believe in the whole right-left wing even existing). Not to say all of them are but it's generally seen that a lot of them are. Probably people who advocate left-wing politics or left wing "progressive" politics are more likely to vote to stay in the EU as opposed to right wing or even centrist individuals who are probably more likely to vote to leave. That's why I personally think the Labour Party and the SNP advocate 16/17 year olds should be able to vote because it's no secret that a majority of the Labour Party want to remain in regardless of the terms and conditions of membership, and the SNP is even more consolidated on the matter of having votes for 16/17 year olds. Of course, there is also the argument that they believe it will encourage more young people into politics, the Scottish referendum is one example, I haven't seen a trend to illustrate that this was not just a one off as of yet, unless you have more examples? Your point that 16/17 year olds can do a lot of things 18+ year old people can do well, I don't think I need to repeat the arguments suggested by opponents which I assume you've already heard on numerous occasions that 16/17 year olds also can't do stuff 18+ people can do, and on some cases even need parental permission to do these things. This is what I think and believe, I disagree with you on a number of things but that's democracy.

    1. Unfortunately it is probably true that Labour and the SNP support 16/17 votes because they are generally more left-leaning, which is a fact. But that is not reason not to support it - one can not oppose democracy merely because younger people would mostly vote yes.

      In regards to encouraging more people to become engaged in politics, there clearly isn't enough evidence to see a trend. In fact, this referendum could be used to asses the extent to which allowing 16/17 year olds to vote encourages them to become more engaged in politics: the voter turn out for the age group would be interesting.

      The arguments that 18+ are adults/ can do more etc. than 16/17 is valid, yes. However, they are still able to get a job, earn an income and with the EU question it is something that they will be directly affected by. If they are legally able to make decisions about marriage and work - why not their country's place within the EU?

      On a side note, what you said previously about EU immigrants - no they shouldn't be allowed to vote, unless, perhaps, they have lived here for a certain number of years. Then again, Irish citizens get a special exception and are allowed to vote - which is democratically wrong.


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