Boris Johnson, one of the leading architects of the campaign for the U.K. to leave the European Union, offered these reassuring words as the whole shoddy house of cards comes tumbling down: “Whatever the gloomsters may say about Britain after March 29, there will still be Mars bars made in this country; there will be no shortage of Mars bars. We will still have potable drinking water. The planes will fly.”
Well, that’s a relief. It is surely the culmination of a civilization’s goals to have an adequate supply of chocolate bars, and enough non-poisoned water with which to wash them down. If some unfortunate citizen has to travel to the continent for the medicine they can no longer find after a no-deal Brexit, at least they’ll be able to take a plane, avoiding the thousands of trucks stuck waiting to cross the Channel. What japes!
Mr. Johnson – former foreign secretary, current Tory backbencher, all-time cynic masquerading as a harmless ungroomed poodle – was speaking at a heavy-equipment factory just days after Britain’s legislators rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. On March 29, if a new deal is not agreed upon or an extension not negotiated, Britain will stumble out of the European Union like a drunk getting kicked out of a pub at last call.
The consequences of a no-deal Brexit, or any Brexit, will be dire, according to most predictions. They will be most dire for the millions of young people who did not vote to leave the EU, who have had no hand in negotiating the exit, and who will be forced to live with the consequences long after the politicians who sold them out are entombed in their families’ marble mausoleums.
As John Major, former Conservative prime minister and ardent Remainer, wrote last fall: “Under every scenario that has been independently modelled – even by our own British Government – the U.K. will be poorer and weaker, and the poorest regions and the least well-off will suffer the most.”
He was writing in a report called Our Future, Our Choice that outlined the harsh economic consequences for young British people in a post-Brexit world. According to an analysis by Tommy Peto, an economic researcher at Oxford University, a no-deal Brexit could cost young people between $75,000 and $180,000 in lost income between now and 2050. Even in the case of a more favourable deal, young people still stood to lose between $12,000 and $54,000.
There was no scenario in which the kids came out on top. Where they could, let’s say, afford to build a $42,000 shed in their yard, complete with sheep’s wool insulation, in which to write the memoirs they’ve been paid $1.3-million dollars to produce. That’s the amount that former prime minister David Cameron, the Mrs. O’Leary of this particular garbage fire, was reportedly given in a publisher’s bidding war; he retired to his shed and has as yet failed to produce his memoirs, perhaps because he’s worried about the hail of tomatoes that will surely be directed his way (although if trucks from Spain and Italy stop arriving with delicious soft fruit, he may find himself pelted with good old British turnips instead).
Mr. Cameron, 52, recently said that he did not regret calling the disastrous referendum, although he regretted that his side lost, and the pain that his country has endured. He did not indicate if he regrets profiting from the pain that he’s inflicted on future generations. Perhaps he weeps quietly in his designer shed every night, his sobs dampened by designer wool. Meanwhile, arch-xenophobe and Leave fanatic Nigel Farage, 54, will also be profiting from this cataclysm. He’s entitled to a $125,000 pension from his time as a member of the European Parliament. When asked by journalist Andrew Marr if he’d give up the pension, he said: “Why should my family suffer?”
Instead, the suffering will fall to the young people who were betrayed by these egomaniacal middle-aged men for their own aggrandizement. They will suffer not just lost wages, but – depending on the details of the deal eventually negotiated – opportunities lost when freedom of movement is restricted, and EU money for university research funding, environmental protection and local community initiatives disappears.
Two-thirds of British people aged 18-24 voted in the Brexit referendum; 71 per cent of them voted Remain. That cohort is much more likely to be pro-immigration, pro-Europe and less nationalistic in its outlook than older voters. And yet, even though they will have to live with the consequences longer, their voices have been negated. It’s their country to build, and yet the tools have been taken out of their hands. Maybe they’ll build a magnificent new country out of the unlimited supply of Mars bars that Mr. Johnson, 54, has so kindly guaranteed.
A 2017 report from researchers Sam Mejias and Shakuntala Banaji at the London School of Economics and Political Science drew upon interviews with forty focus groups of young people to determine their attitudes toward Brexit, and what they hoped to see in a negotiated deal. The authors write: ‘’A significant majority expressed bemusement, anger, and resentment at the choice to leave the EU, which was made – in their view – primarily, though not exclusively, by older generations.’’
What did they not want? “Clearly they did not want to lose the EU membership opportunities and rights that they currently have access to, particularly in the areas of human and civil rights, cross-border families, travel, work, education, and trade.’’
These are the people with the most to lose, yet have the least influence over their own fate. With the cacophony in Westminster, it’s unlikely that many members of Parliament (average age: 50) are spending a lot of time listening to their youngest constituents. The Scottish National Party’s Mhairi Black, the youngest MP at the age of 24, took the Conservatives to task for their chaotic fumbling of Brexit: “There’s not a hint of regret or even an awareness of the damage they are doing.” She’s right. And almost certainly no one will listen.