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Generation EU: How Brexit vote pitted old against young

Last week’s referendum on the EU did more than just pit the ‘leave’ forces against the ‘remain’ side


 
Supporters of the Stronger In campaign react after hearing results in the EU referendum at London's Royal Festival Hall, Friday, June 24, 2016. On Thursday, Britain voted in a national referendum on whether to stay inside the EU. On Thursday, Britain voted in a national referendum on whether to stay inside the EU. (Rob Stothard/AP)

Supporters of the Stronger In campaign react after hearing results in the EU referendum at London’s Royal Festival Hall, Friday, June 24, 2016. (Rob Stothard, AP)

LONDON —  The day after Britain voted to leave the European Union, 69-year-old Mary Crossley of London said she got a phone call from her 31-year-old daughter. She seemed pretty annoyed.

“’You’ve messed us up, mum,”’ Crossley said her daughter told her. “She kept telling me off.”

Crossley and her husband Barry had cast their ballots for a British exit — or Brexit — from the 28-nation EU. Crossley said her daughter Elizabeth had voted to remain in the union, fearing that the economic turmoil triggered by a Brexit would harm her husband’s business.

It wasn’t a serious dispute. Mary, interviewed at her north London home, said she was now looking after her daughter’s beagle mix. Still, the family’s intergenerational angst is an illustration of how last week’s referendum did more than just pit the “leave” forces against the “remain” side. In many cases, it pitted the old against the young.

In interviews with The Associated Press, Brits in their 20s and 30s described disagreements between euroskeptic parents and their more internationally minded children. The more passionate disagreements led to angry phone calls, accusatory text messages and — in one or two cases — parents and children who haven’t spoken since the EU referendum results became known early Friday.

The reasons for the family feuds are as diverse as the families themselves, but for many young supporters of the “remain” camp, it’s the prospect of seeing their parents shut the gates to Europe that galls, particularly as Britain’s baby boomers prepare to bequeath their children a national debt of more than 1.6 trillion pounds ($2.1 trillion.)

“We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied,” 25-year-old Nicholas Barret wrote in a widely shared missive to the Financial Times. “Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.”

Surveys show a notable division between Britain’s young and old on Brexit; an Ipsos MORI survey showed 64 per cent of those aged 18 to 35 favoured the “remain” side, with 60 per cent of those aged 55 and over backing Brexit. The telephone survey was conducted June 21-22 and had a margin of error of 4 per cent.

One expert said there was a clear age gap, but he added that was a feature of every election.

“The generational thing was entirely expected, but it’s being played up because the overall outcome was so unexpected,” said Justin Fisher, a professor of political science at Brunel University London. He laughed at the idea _ floated by some disappointed youngsters _ that the older generation had effectively stolen the vote from their children.

“You can’t deny the vote to someone because they’re likely to die in 10 years,” he noted, adding that the youth turnout was, as is almost always the case, well below that of their elders.

“Had younger people turned out in higher numbers than they did, ‘remain’ might have won,” Fisher said.

Some Britons don’t buy the idea that the referendum was a young-versus-old contest.

“All of my grandparents voted for ‘remain,”’ said Andy Martin, a 23-year-old student in London. Martin said he was devastated by the vote _ “it’s the first time politics ever made me cry” _ but he said journalists shouldn’t overemphasize the battle of the generations. At least one other member of his family had voted to leave the EU and that “had more to do with their ideology than their age.”

Barry Crossley said he’d voted against the EU back in 1975, when it was still called the European Economic Community, during Britain’s last referendum on membership.

“I voted to stay out then,” he said with a smile. “I knew it was going to be bad.”

While social media has served up tales of dramatic fallings-out between children and their parents over Britain’s place in Europe, others merely had good-tempered differences of opinion.

“Although we disagreed, we didn’t have a disagreement,” said 25-year-old paralegal Maia Duffield, who voted to remain while her father voted to leave.

Some parents even consulted their children, a nod to the idea that Britain’s place in Europe means more to its young than to its elders.

Francesca Roberts, a 28-year-old who voted to remain, said some of her peers felt like “the older generation has shot a few holes in the ship and then left on the last lifeboat.”

But that wasn’t the case with her 57-year-old consultant father, Chris, who told The Associated Press he carefully considered his daughter’s input.

In business as in politics, he said, it was important to keep the younger generation’s perspective in mind.

“Otherwise you get stuck,” he said.

So while the left-wing Francesca said she almost always clashes politically with her more right-wing dad, on the day of the EU referendum, he sent her a text message that read: “Wandering down to vote. Just wanted to say that despite our different views at times you do inform my thinking and I hope today sets a path to protect your future.”

Finishing the text with a blown kiss emoji, he wrote: “This is your vote more than mine.”

 

 


 
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