Teenaged sisters Alice and Beatrice Grant are self-proclaimed hardcore Brexit fans who shot to viral infamy when they posted a video on Twitter about the evils of left-wing beliefs. “Socialism is a destructive ideology designed to control and oppress the individual,” says Alice in her prim, Reithian tones before railing without irony against the “young, ignorant, privileged students who have never had a real job” whom she believes tend to promote socialism.
The video is made with a filter intended to flatter, but that gives the pair a kind of artificial quality, almost as if they were deep-fakes – the views of some ranting old colonel imposed on two young people. It caused disbelief and ridicule on left-wing Twitter.
The right-wing teens have spent much of the last year or so as young Brexit stans. In a new VICE film, Teenage Brexit, which takes a delve into their lives, they show off framed pictures of themselves with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage in their Kensington home (“so here’s one of my favourite photos of us with Nigel and he’s offering us some canapés”). The privately educated granddaughters of the late industrialist and former Governor of the Bank of Scotland Sir Alistair Grant are also seen waving placards and chanting “let’s go WTO” near Parliament, trolling a nearby group of pro-Remain protesters – part of Westminster’s absurd Brexit circus. “Sometimes I don’t feel as though I want to go out and party and drink and smoke weed, which is what they [my classmates] do. I’d much prefer just writing things about Brexit,” says Alice.
Before they gained internet notoriety, they were already on the radar of Brexiteers and the right-wing press. It was their attendance at Nigel Farage’s March to Leave where they first made their mark. Billed as an “epic protest march” – starting in Sunderland on 16th March 2019 and arriving at a rally in London 14 days later – the event was a washout. Poorly attended and lashed by Storm Hanna, it did at least provide the Brexit Party leader a chance to meet his young acolytes.
Farage mentioned meeting the teens in a subsequent diary column for the Spectator magazine: “A week into the event, as we walked from Mansfield, I was delighted to chat to the Grant sisters, Bea and Alice,” he wrote. “They are first-time voters and committed Brexiteers. To the horror of many, they also happen to be bright, pretty girls. Yes, intelligent women do support Brexit.”
Before long they were the subject of a gushing profile in the Daily Mail, which praised the “political poise” and the “politically astute pair”, as well as their “eloquence that belies their youth”.
With their sepia aesthetic, posh accents and anti-socialist politics, the young pair’s appeal to ageing Brexiteers is obvious. They hit those Daily Mail sweet spots of nostalgia and aspiration so perfectly that they could almost have been invented. In fact, when they first emerged, some on social media suggested that they were paid actresses.
While the sisters may be political performers – aware that they have been thrust into the public eye – that doesn’t mean they’re fake. The truth appears to be more obvious. A clear influence from their mother and father (both of whom are Brexiteers) is apparent. Younger sister Beatrice comes across as the more independent minded one – she didn’t join Alice and their mother on a climate change march to protest what they called “climate change alarmism”, and says she doesn’t support Trump, unlike her sister. Paid stooges don’t tend to hold opposing views.
The theories about the Grant sisters certainly had an appeal for the Mail, which made debunking them a key angle for their profile, and to Nigel Farage, who wrote that, “Though flattering, the truth is far more prosaic. They are just ordinary young women excited by the prospect of a free UK. They are an inspiration to me; it’s their future that I’m working for.” Focus on conspiratorial allegations can be used to shift the focus from what’s important. In the case of the Grant sisters, casting them as genuine means you can gloss over just how unusual they really are.
With polls suggesting that around 70 per cent of young voters opting for remain – the highest proportion of any generation – it’s tempting to think that 30 per cent of young people voted leave, which would still be a fair few people. However, Professor Danny Dorling, an Oxford University fellow who has written extensively about Brexit, points out: “That’s 30 per cent of only the tiny proportion who voted. So you’re looking probably at less than 7 per cent overall.” The Grant sisters are “very, very untypical in all kinds of ways of their age group,” he says.
For Dorling, the teens’ story is reminiscent of other young political prodigies. “They’re in a line of children who have been like this,” he says, mentioning William Hague’s famous 1977 Conservative Party conference speech, in which, aged just 16, he warned of the perils of “the socialist state, which draws nearer with every Labour government”.
“There’s a history of a small minority of young people getting very interested in politics, and there’s a history of putting them on a platform," Dorling says. "And then you get a kind of feedback loop where you get the media attention, you get the adoration and so on. It didn’t do William Hague much damage."
“In my year of 180 I think there are about four Brexiteers,” says Alice of her classmates, later admitting that most of her peers voted Labour in the election. “It would be great if more people our age could be involved with this Brexit ‘subculture’,” laments Beatrice.
Given their background, it is perhaps no surprise that the pair support Brexit. The idea of Brexit as a “working class revolt” is a “myth”, according to Dorling.
“The majority of the vote to leave was in the south of England – 52 per cent. It’s really strongly conservative in areas that usually vote Conservative. Most of the leave voters voted UKIP and Conservative.”
Nevertheless, Alice is certain that working class people “want a no-deal Brexit and most of them are actually prepared to face the economic consequences”. When asked if they have anything in common with working class people, Alice says: “So much in common – we’re all patriotic”. She is later seen filming a promotional video for the Brexit Party in which she berates Labour’s “cosmopolitan, globalist values”. She could hardly have pointed out any material similarities and so grasps at supposed ideological ones – culture war talking points.
Such figures are simultaneously promoted as curios, while also serving to suggest some level of support for right-wing politics among the young that doesn’t really exist. “The Remain side don’t have complete ownership of Britain’s youth,” Farage boasts in the Spectator. While Nigel Farage may like to pretend that they are “ordinary young women”, the truth is that the likes of Alice and Beatrice will continue to hold a fascination precisely because they are nothing like most young people.