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Proposed Brexit Deal Would Strengthen Borders, But End 'Free Movement'


British Prime Minister Theresa May called for national unity after she survived yesterday's no confidence vote, but her plan to take Britain out of the EU is as divisive and uncertain as ever. Young people are overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, and they are among those who will be most affected by it. NPR's Frank Langfitt talked to some young Londoners who reflect the divisions in British society.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Esta Norton, who's 18, turned out last week at a town hall meeting north of London and asked a question that's on the mind of many of her peers.


ESTA NORTON: I'd like to know what you think Theresa May's Brexit deal is going to do to benefit young people like me.


LANGFITT: Norton's concerned that Brexit will end the right of young Britons like her to study, live and work in the European Union visa-free. Norton's member of Parliament, Bim Afolami of the prime minister's Conservative Party, said he hoped the U.K. and the EU could work out a deal.


BIM AFOLAMI: We have some of the best universities, if not the best universities, in Europe. Europeans want to come to Britain as well.

LANGFITT: After the forum, Norton, who was too young to vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum, remained skeptical.

NORTON: Yeah, it feels like opportunities to live, work, study abroad are being almost ripped away from me in a way that I would not have chosen. And a lot of other young people like me feel exactly the same. Yeah, it feels to me quite a tragedy.

LANGFITT: And the Brexit clock is ticking down. The U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU at the end of March.

NORTON: It's likely to happen. I don't really see any way of stopping it. Ideally, I'd like to remain, but I think that's going to cause, you know, civil unrest.

LANGFITT: And this afternoon, I bumped into Sophie Jane, who's having a smoke outside London's University of Westminster, where she studies neuroscience. Jane, who's 21, voted to remain in the EU. She has her own plan to deal with Brexit.

SOPHIE JANE: Leave. Just leave the U.K. (laughter). I don't want to stay here.

LANGFITT: Did you always feel that way or is your - has your feelings changed recently?

JANE: Changed from Brexit. Brexit has been the impact.

LANGFITT: But you're a British citizen.

JANE: Yes. But I can have Irish nationality, so I can leave.

LANGFITT: Jane's family is originally from Ireland. She's among more than 150,000 British citizens who applied for an Irish passport this year, a passport that will allow them to live and work in the EU.

JANE: I'm very pro-Europe. I like having the immigration here. I like being able to go and travel as much as I like and work wherever I like. And I think the U.K., anyway, is backwards enough as it is. We don't learn languages properly anyway, and that's only going to have more of a negative impact here.

LANGFITT: Just over 70 percent of young people like Jane voted to stay in the European Union, according to polls. But a significant minority see it differently.

REBECCA BOND: I'm pro-Brexit. The reason for this is that this is my country, my future. I believe we need to take control of our own economy, our own borders.

LANGFITT: Rebecca Bond is 17 but would have voted for Brexit if she could have. Last week, she came to London with her family for a pro-Brexit rally. Bond's family used to live in a community east of London with a large immigrant population.

BOND: I felt like the minority because I was. I felt - I just felt estranged.

LANGFITT: Bond said immigration affected her school. She said some of her classmates' lack of language skills slowed the pace of teaching. And her family decided to move to a more rural area.

BOND: And I found that I was more with the people that were born in this country, that were raised in this country. They had the same beliefs as me, the same values as me. And I found that really rewarding to be in that sort of society rather than in a school where I was held back with my academic abilities because there were people that didn't speak the same language as me.

LANGFITT: Bond values the opportunity to study in Europe but thinks it's more important that the U.K. get on with it and leave the EU. Bond hopes to attend Oxford or Cambridge in the fall and points out Britain has lots of great universities. That, she said, is all we need. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF HALBERD'S "SUMMER NIGHTS.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.