Brexit pensioners are selfish? I don’t get it

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, I read opinions online saying that the older voters who ticked the Leave box — and who therefore are unlikely to spend very many years in a post-Brexit Britain — were selfish. Some went so far as to suggest the decision shouldn’t have had anything to do with society’s elders, and should have been left up to the younger ones to decide. (Numerous examples here.)

The latter point, I think, is just absurd and unprincipled. Politics is almost always about influencing the future course of a society. If a referendum were announced on a measure that would greatly benefit the younger generation — spending on a massive youth employment scheme or housing program for first-time buyers — would those same people argue against allowing pensioners having a say? If so, would they still argue against it if the older generation overwhelmingly favoured the measure?

However, the earlier point — that the grey brigade is selfish for voting leave — takes a bit more arguing, I think. Was it possible to vote unselfishly for leaving? I believe so. In fact, one of biggest reasons for voting leave was the impression (wrong though it may be) that excessive migration causes unemployment (source).

Pensioners who believe this were clearly not voting selfishly, since unemployment no longer affects them. In their mind, they might be worried about their younger friends and family being able to get jobs.

Another big reason for voting leave was over Parliamentary sovereignty, and the perception that Parliament’s powers were being taken away by the EU.

These reasons don’t seem selfish to me. They seem like the opinions of someone who is concerned about the country they live in and their grandchildren will grow up in.

Perhaps some of these commentators think Brexiteer pensioners are uncaring because they ignored certain consequences. This I find harder to argue against. We were not short of economic predictions — here’s just a few from the Financial Times which argued Brexit will:

  • “in the view of [many experts], result in negative annual returns for UK equity portfolios.”
  • “push inflation to 4.5 per cent on HSBC estimates, while providing no economic impetus for a rise in the base rate, or the average cash Isa rate, from 0.5 per cent.”
  • “cut prices by up to a quarter, on rating agency Fitch’s calculations, knocking £26.5bn off property values by 2018,”
  • “removes the four financial advantages [pensioners] enjoyed for the best part of 41 years: generous employee pensions; rising share prices; real returns on cash deposits; and growing property equity.”

Brexit will also remove the freedom of movement of labour in Europe for British workers. The same might happen to the Erasmus Programme that allows thousands of students the benefit of studying in Europe. (Admittedly, British opinion on freedom of movement is quite inconsistent.) And that’s to say nothing about the impact on science and research too.

The only defence I can offer is that an unselfish Brexit-voting pensioner chose to prioritise issues they see as nobler and more immediate over other issues. But doesn’t politics involve compromise all the time?

I can think of a few words for reasoning that the best way to deal with EU problems is simply to secede from the union.

But writing off a whole generation as selfish? Not me.