Listen Up! Deciphering the Brexit vote: old people have screwed the young people: Opinion


Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville DopplerWhose World Is It Anyway?

The outcome of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom will dominate world news for months to come. What surprised me most however, was not so much that Britain voted to leave the EU, but rather the breakdown in voting patterns that made it happen.

65 per cent of young people between the ages of 18 and 35 voted to stay in the European Union. Conversely, nearly 70 per cent of people over the age of 65 voted to get out. Obviously, the younger generation was worried about their future in a country that has effectively closed its doors on the rest of Europe. For those who believe that will not happen and that it will be business as usual for Britain in Europe, just watch the exit negotiations that will take place between Britain and the EU during the next year or so. Already, European Union leaders are urging Britain to start negotiating their exit quickly, in an attitude of ‘Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out’. Young people in Britain have every right to believe that as the older generation put the “Leave” vote over the top, the well-being of upcoming generations was not seriously considered and from that point of view, simply collateral damage.

It will be interesting to follow the domino effect resulting from the Brexit vote. Already Scotland, who voted strongly to stay in the European Union, is making noises about a second referendum to leave Britain. They almost succeeded about two years ago but this time around will probably have enough angry young people who want to get back into the EU to put them over the top. No doubt there will be similar unrest in Northern Ireland, who also voted to stay in the EU, as people there blame voters in England for taking them out.

European countries will be scrambling to hold their common market together. Of the 28 members of the EU, Britain had the second or third strongest economy. Without them, it will be much more difficult to prop up less stable economies such as Greece. There could be some serious changes in the map of Europe as a result of Brexit.

On this side of the Atlantic there could be ramifications as well, especially with an economy that is already fragile. There will be encouragement for populist movements to re-emerge. In Canada, Quebec separatists have already begun to drool over the prospect of Brexit igniting their movement. “Quebec Separatists see hope after Brexit vote,” says a headline in the Huffington Post.

In the United States, the Brexit vote could well be a boon for Donald Trump. Control of immigration was a serious issue in the British referendum. Trump’s popularity in the States is in part related to his strong stand on controlling Muslim and Mexican immigration. He is bellowing his support for “taking their country back” which he says is exactly what he wants to do in America. It will be interesting to see what that does to his polling numbers as the American election heats up.

What all of this adds up to is a serious international movement toward isolationism which should be disturbing given the reality that the world is now inextricably tied to a global economy. It will not take long before the tension between these two forces reaches the breaking point.

Boris Johnston, a former Mayor of London and the leader of the “Leave” movement in Britain, could well become their next Prime Minister. The prospect of two of the largest countries in the Western world being led by isolationists, Trump in the States and Johnson in the UK, leaves me cold. Just the visual of the two of them together is enough to scare the hell out of me.

The upside for me, however, is the next generation and the young people who will inevitably fight for their future which is dependent not on isolationism but on full access to global markets and international opportunities. The Brexit vote was a slap in the face to British youth. But by their stand on Brexit, they have served notice that they are not going away. Nor will the next generation go away in other parts of the word. It is time for some of us to recognize that the future belongs to them and that it depends in many ways on what we do now. We really need to ask ourselves, ‘Whose world is it anyway?’

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  1. Britain has jeopardized its economy and its relationships with the rest of the E.U. countries just so that it can create and enforce its own immigration policies, specifically concerning Muslims. This is the same type of xenophobia and nationalism that Donald Trump is inciting in the U.S., and that’s why we in North America should be concerned about the result of this referendum. Most of us believed that Americans would never be so short-sighted as to elect a racist fear monger like Donald Trump. And yet Britain has voted against its own best interests largely out of xenophobia. I hope Americans take this as a wake-up call. As much as they don’t want to believe it, as damaging as they know it would be, Donald Trump could win the U.S. presidential election. Britain has just shown us that the unthinkable can happen.

  2. Paul Clayson on

    I continue to be amazed at the total lack of understanding in North America of the Brexit result. Johnson is NOT an “Isolationist”. The young people who voted to remain were more concerned with losing the education grants from the EU. Britain is too big a trading nation to be shut out of European trade. With the current price of oil, Scotland cannot break with England. Britain is a small island, and already has too many outsiders taking jobs and nearly bankrupting the NHS and State pensions. And if you want to apportion blame, put it where it properly lies, with the EU. Had they dealt seriously with Cameron when he tried to get changes from them, this whole referendum business would never have happened. The EU has gone from a trading market to a regime run by bureaucrats. No wonder Britain is not the only country wanting to leave.

    • It is nice to hear from someone who understands the EU situation. It could never work with only 3 out of the 28 nations paying for almost everything. Everyone in any EU country had the RIGHT to move to Britain and claim all of the state benefits including sending Child benefit home to Rumania for 8 or 9 children who don’t live in Britain and may not even exist. The immigration issue was never about Muslims only for a few nutters.

  3. Dale Peacock on

    I’m glad you commented on this two columns in a row Hugh…..its effect is huge and far reaching and worthy of lots of discussion.

    In a terrible way I think the Brexit vote may have a negative effect of the American view of Trump’s policies. Correction …he has no policies…on Trump’s 40 character sound bites.

    Many in Britain woke up the next day with a remorse hangover and Britain’s youth made a powerful and poignant argument on the folly of acting hastily and selfishly. Perhaps the U.S. will see that as a warning to put the anger aside or at least direct it toward its rightful target.

    If the exit holds, I believe that old, angry white people have stolen the future from their children and their children’s children. Surely, that isn’t what they intended?

  4. Paul Clayson on

    I would very much like to know where your “statistics” came from. As a political junky, Hugh, you should know better. The vote was confidential, as are all votes, and there were no exit polls taken, so how do you know 65% of young people voted to stay in the EU and 70% of old people voted to leave. Stop believing in rumours and stick to the facts. Seven million people across Britain wanted out.

    • Hugh Mackenzie on

      Hi Paul: I am sorry we disagree on this one. I got my information from several British newspapers and from a Government Relations firm in London with whom I have worked in the past.

  5. Andrew Binks on

    A few days ago, I was thinking about how the youth are getting the raw deal, when the elderly, who typically voted to leave the EU, will be gone. I asked myself: when is it a good time to hold such a vote. I couldn’t come up with an answer. Opinions will always sway, from generation to generation. Who knows? Maybe the youth of 2075 will find it better to be part of something bigger, such as some sort of European Union or maybe stand alone, as the elderly voted for this time around.

  6. Interesting the conclusions people reach depending on their personal philosophy and political inclinations.
    The older, more experienced citizens seem to have expressed a different wish than the youth of the country at least in parts of it. Demographic analysis is always entertaining following a controversial election.
    I think many Brits were sick and tired of the overbearing bureaucracy under which they were being forced to live, a Eurocratic supra level of authority dictating such minutiae as marketable banana size, suitability of colouration of vegfies etc as well as a very objectionable foreign vetting of British court decisions and legislation by Eurocrats.
    As a Brit friend of mine said in an email on election day, ” Have just been up to the village to sign out from Euro. Have had more than enough of the whole thing, not a bit like what we joined for originally. Just hope we get out and looking forward to the result…..etc.”
    This is obviously a sentiment widely held across the country. The folks old enough to remember what things were like prior to joining have decided they wanted “home rule” again. That was 40 years ago. Obviously the younger folks have no memory of what things were like before whatever that perspective may be worth.
    I think that the world isn’t going to end. Britain will go on as it has for a thousand years and as I observed in the last blog, a new arrangement will be successfully forged with Europe. The Euros may at the moment be petulant but their self interest will dictate a new arrangement with the Brits.
    It is not wrong for the Brits to resent the tide of more or less uncontrolled migrant occupancy of their small island country and the resulting strain on their resources and societal changes to their country. Humans are tribal and that is a fact underlying all these situations and it is a wise person who recognizes it for what it means for better or worse.
    Canadians are pretty smug when it comes to judging others and I believe we would be no better at dealing with large and rapid changes in our societal composition than, in this case, the British. The British have been insulated somewhat by 30 miles of water between themselves and continental Europe with all its recent challenges. Canada has the luxury of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans ensuring that migrants can’t arrive in hoards. It makes a big difference which we should recognize (and admit we appreciate).
    Yes there will be challenges but Britain will be the better for them.
    I have been there in the past year and will be back soon. I expect to find it much as it was.

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