Brexit is an injustice to Britain's youth

Those who must live the longest with the outcome of the referendum wanted to remain in the EU.

 |  Life  |  3-minute read |   26-06-2016
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I am still digesting the shock on Friday morning of Britain's exit from the European Union (EU). I lived in England as a student for about four years. Debates then were rife about integration with the EU, led by the firebrand John Redwood.

In one fell swoop, British voters may have sounded the death knell for the country's economy for the next several decades, as well as globalisation as we know it.

What has been notable in the analysis of the Brexit voting, besides the socio-economic divide in the United Kingdom, has been the differences over how the various age groups cast their votes.

Also read: Brexit will go down in history as a blunder

While 73 per cent of voters under the age of 25 wished to remain in the EU, 60 per cent of those over 65 opted to leave.

"Remain" was the preferred position of 62 per cent of 25-34-year-olds, narrowing to 52 per cent in the 35-44 year range, but "Leave" was the choice among 45-54-year-olds with 56 per cent backing it, which expanded to 57 per cent in the 55-64 year age bracket.


What does this mean? Those who must live the longest with the outcome of the referendum wanted to remain in the EU.

Assuming a life expectancy of 90 years, those in the age group of 18-24 years would have to live with the decision for the next 69 years. Compare this to those over the age of 65: they have to contend with the outcome for only another 16 years.

Also read: Why the British working class voted for Brexit

So are referendums the way to go? Ironically, another Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher, said in 1975, "Referendums are a splendid weapon for demagogues and dictators."

brexit-333_062616051821.jpg The consequences for Britain's younger generation cannot be underestimated.

It is difficult to break down such a complex issue as whether or not to stay in the EU, and subject it to a simple "yes" or "no" vote. At the same time, such a voting structure is probably unsuited to dealing with decisions with long-term ramifications.

How does one then attempt to balance the interests of all stakeholders when the impact of a vote will be felt over a longer timeframe, rather than here and now? In the Brexit case, the younger the voter, the higher was the stakes for them.

Also read: Britain and the world will never be the same after Brexit

Perhaps one solution could have been age-weighted voting rights, adjusted to reflect the demographics of the society; in Britain's case, an ageing population.

Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, once advocated for two votes each for those between the ages of 35 to 60 with children, arguing that they would vote not only for themselves, but also for the interests of their children.

He feared that an ageing population might give rise to a huge army of the elderly demanding welfare handouts. In Singapore, the median age of the resident population rose from 34 years in 2000 to 39.6 years in 2015.

As Europe faces an immigrant backlash and right-wing parties are on the ascendence, we will see the question of whether to stay in the EU being put to the test, possibly through more referendums such as the one we witnessed for Brexit.

The consequences for Britain's younger generation cannot be underestimated.


Eirliani Abdul Rahman Eirliani Abdul Rahman

The writer is Executive Director of non-profit YAKIN (Youth, Adult survivors & Kin In Need) and Director at the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation.

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