How Brexit made UK’s fault lines more visible

The UK is on its way out of the European Union. The referendum has left a huge divide among Britons between young and old and England and Scotland.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty is pictured near an EU flag following Britain's referendum results to leave the European Union, in this photo illustration taken in Brussels.

The UK’s vote to leave the EU is serving as an eye opener.

The shocking result not only lifted the curtain on rifts within the Conservative Party and Labour Party, but also made visible the division between the younger and older generations.

Following the EU referendum results, there have been a string of resignations within the Labour Party’s shadow cabinet in protest to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

At least 17 shadow ministers have quit, with most slamming Corbyn for his performance in the EU referendum.

Andrew Feldman, Chairman of the Conservative Party is also set to resign later this year following Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement which came hours after the results were announced. 

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation in front of 10 Downing Street, London, Friday, June, 24, 2016.

Meanwhile, a petition for a second EU referendum has already been signed by more than 3.2 million Britons.

However, Cameron has ruled out the possibility of a second vote.

Young vs Old

Younger and older Britons appeared poles apart in their opinion over the UK’s fate as a member of the world’s biggest trading bloc.

John, a student of arts, expressed his dismay, saying, “It's a disaster. The older generation is living in a time warp. They are the ones that have the most difficulty adjusting to changes. They have only betrayed themselves, their pensions will be cut.”

He went on to say that the UK is currently under a heavy burden of debt.

“The Pound will fall, borrowing will be more expensive. No-one knows if the UK will disintegrate."

Frank Fisher, 52, a digital consultant, who voted in favour of Leave, had a different take on the issue.

“I believe the UK will be safer and more prosperous outside the EU, where, for example, the Eurozone crisis is still unresolved.”

He said the key issue is self-determination.

“EU is a historically weird construct. Pooling sovereignty is not how [the] world works. Just 28 nations do this in the entire world. So UK is returning to the norm.”

Fisher said the vote to leave is a natural reaction to 40 years of lies and trickery that has dragged the country into political union without consent.

A total of  51.9 percent who voted for Brexit belonged to the age group of 50-64 years with an overwhelming 65 percent of these voters feeling left behind by globalisation and blamed EU immigration for low wages and stretched public services.

"I think it's tremendous, it's a good thing," Duncan, a 70-year-old part-time chauffeur said.

He said he thought it would help the economy and allow limits on who comes to Britain.

"Britain is sinking under the weight of population," he added.

Britain's population increased by half a percent yearly since 2010.

The baby boomer generation, who are older than 55 years and born post-second world war, came out in their numbers to vote probably due to a feeling of civic duty and the feeling that the UK has given away their power to the EU.

The older generation has a keen sense of wanting to protect their sense of nationalism, potentially envisioning a country before EU membership without overcrowding or burdens on public services.

However, not all those who voted felt the same. Stephen King, 64 said, "My children voted Remain, in the end so did I. For my children it was a no brainer, they see the positives of a liberal, open-border world. Their old father is not so sure: rising population, overcrowding, demand on services, thousands of new houses built on open countryside."

Demonstrators opposing Britain's exit from the European Union in Parliament Square following EU referendum result hold a protest in London, Saturday, June 25, 2016.

Political scientist Melanie Sully of the Vienna-based Go-Governance Institute warned Europe was facing a "crisis of democracy" that could be exploited by xenophobic, far right parties.

"If you don't have any trust in politics, it's exactly the sort of black hole populists can march into and capture the mood and build on it, to perpetuate their own falsehoods," she told AFP.

At the root of this surge in anti-establishment sentiment is a feeling of fear, loss of control, and traditions and identity lost among those who are struggling economically, analysts say.

Janet Hartley, a retiree from Manchester in northern England, voted to leave the EU.

She said the campaign leading up to the referendum had been confusing, with politicians talking “rubbish”, but that Britain would now be better off.

"We should have our independence instead of being ruled by a lot of bureaucrats sitting earning lots of money doing sod-all [nothing]."

She was one of many older voters who chose Brexit.

The youth, however, are angry that a generation who have already lived their lives have now dictated their future. They took to twitter to vent their frustrations.

Britons under the age of 35 see EU membership in a positive light.

These are the ones who were benefitting from the no-visa initiative.

They were able to move between 27 different countries, work or study anywhere within the Eurozone and integrate with other nationalities easier than the baby boomer generation.

For them, the hope of creating a stable economy and career-path have flown out the window.

Jack Lennard, who wrote an opinion piece for Vox said, “I am a member of a generation that was supposed to represent hope — we were meant to solve the problems left by the last generation, usher in an era of progressive and unified humanity. We were meant to be the people to finally harness the technological potential of the 20th century for something other than a world war. We were the eternal optimists.”

Most people in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain while England and Wales opted to leave, raising questions over the future of the United Kingdom they all belong to.

"It's a bit shocking, it's put a lot of uncertainty into Scotland over the next couple of years. This has split us right down the middle," said Catherine, 41, from the Scottish city of Aberdeen.

The UK is the first country to exit the EU and has two years to do so. A lot of uncertainty abounds for the future of the UK, especially for the younger generation of Britons who have utilized the opportunities to study, work and live within the EU borders.

TRTWorld and agencies