Thursday 30 March 2017

Brexit Britain : a country with government of the old, by the old, for the old.

Britain is a country still deeply divided over Europe. Nine months ago, 17.4 million Britons voted to leave Europe while 16.1 million voted to remain. In other words, if just over 650,000 people had voted the other way, Britain would not be leaving the European Union. That's about the population of Cardiff and Coventry combined. A YouGov opinion poll this week suggested that views haven’t changed much. Neither side of the arguments regrets the stance it took last year.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that leaving is : “this generation’s chance to shape a brighter future for our country” and offers “a chance to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.”
The problem is : to which generation is she referring ?

In a YouGov poll this week, 65% of young people aged 18-24 say it was wrong to vote leave, against just 12% who think it was right. At the other end of the age spectrum, the over-65s say the opposite, with 62% saying it was right to leave and 31% saying it was wrong.

So when she refers to “this generation’s chance”, she really means it’s 'the older generation’s chance' to break a relationship with Europe that the younger generation wants to keep. Looking backwards has therefore defeated looking forwards, at least until the leave voters die out and in turn leave the new pro-European majority in charge.

At the end of her speech May invoked a misty-eyed vision of  “a stronger, fairer, better Britain – a Britain our children and grandchildren are proud to call home”. The problem, though, is that leaving the EU isn’t going to produce that kind of Britain. As the historian Anthony Barnett put it in his article : 'Britain is an old people's home' : 'Brexit is government of the old, by the old, for the old - and it will perish with the old.' 

In answer to the question : How long will this take ? He replies : 'The slow, drawn out process of modern ageing can be interminable. Or fast. Incrementalism and sudden death exist side by side in the over 65s, so no clear prediction of when and how the nations of the United Kingdom will renew their engagement with the European Union is possible yet.' 

Sadly, the 31% of old men and women who thought it was wrong to disengage from Europe and the many of those who think it will prove to be a monumental error of epic proportions, will also be gone by that future time of disengagement. 

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