The Two Brexits

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Not everything of value can be measured or counted, and Remainers opposing Brexit purely on economic or materialistic terms are doomed to forever misunderstand half the country when they refuse to view Brexit through any other prism

If we are to have any hope of knitting Britain back together after Brexit, Remainers must first acknowledge and seek to understand an entire aspect to Brexit which until now they have tended to ignore or crudely dismiss as xenophobia or nostalgia for Empire.

Brexit is two separate phenomena in one. First there is Economic Brexit, the world of quantifiable (if still largely speculative) prognostications and arguments over just how impoverished Britain will be after Hard Brexit versus the untold riches which will be ours once we have concluded that mega trade deal with New Zealand.

But there is another Brexit, too. I struggle to define it – some days I feel like it is “Constitutional Brexit”, the Brexit which concerns itself with high-minded questions of governance, statecraft and geopolitics. But on other days it feels more visceral, more inchoate, though no less important for that. This is “Cultural Brexit” – sneered at by the Economist but best understood as secession from the EU partly as a reaction against supranational European government, yes, but also an enormous cultural backlash against years of self-serving, centrist, technocratic government within the narrow boundaries of an incredibly restrictive Overton Window.

While many smug or outraged Remainers try to hang Vote Leave’s idiotic “£350 million for the NHS” bus slogan around my neck, I never believed any of that nonsense and did my best to dispel it while other Brexiteers who should have known better were still propagating the idiocy and sowing the seeds for our current impasse. Personally, I always pursued “Constitutional Brexit”. What mattered to me was not immigration numbers or trade deals per se, it was the fact that decisions like these – crucial to the development, prosperity and nature of any nation state – should be made at that national level, not set as an unsatisfactory 28-way supranational compromise in Brussels (at least until a tipping point is reached where majority of us feel more strongly European than British).

But the more I observe the furious establishment backlash against Brexit (and last year’s opportunistic centrist coup against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party) the more I find that Cultural Brexit also resonates quite strongly within me. Ultimately, I cannot separate the constitutional issues from the fact that for too long Britain has been run by cautious, unambitious identikit drones who nominally belong to Team Red or Team Blue but ultimately hold the same basic worldview and seek to inch us incrementally toward their shared vision of the future, without even thinking to meaningfully consult with the people or explain their actions.

Are the numbers important? Absolutely. To the extent that we can actually make meaningful forecasts (and note: nearly every self-professed or well-credentialed economic expert has been wide of the mark, from when they told us that staying outside of the euro would be economic suicide right up to the OECD’s continually shifting forecasts of Brexit doom) of course numbers and the impact of Brexit on the economy matters. An economically weakened Britain is a diminished Britain, even if only in the short term, and we cannot forget that government policy and spending decisions can be measured by their impact on real human lives.

But simultaneously, numbers are often very good at capturing nearly everything besides that which actually makes life worth living. That’s why I never warmed to the Tony Blair / Gordon Brown / Ed Miliband / Jeremy Corbyn view of the world. They all had their own emphases, but to listen to these leaders speak was to imagine a clinical and soulless Britain, impeccably multicultural, endlessly tolerant even as Western values were eroded, with punctual trains, benefits for everyone, a gleaming new NHS hospital on every other street corner filled with identically-uniformed staff – but very little else.

Public Services (and the taxpayer money which needed to be extorted to pay for them) are everything to this type of leftist. Civil society and the idea of individuals coming together to do anything besides consume public services or petition the government for More Stuff barely registers in their mind, because their conception of a Utopian society has little room for anything outside the public sector. Schools, hospitals and trains – absolutely. Churches, the Women’s Institute, innovative start-ups, world-beating corporations, the ambition to strive for anything besides total equality of outcome – not so much. There is (or at least there should be) more to our shared national life than the public services which we consume together.

People of this mindset simply cannot fathom why we might want to leave the European Union, because it represents risk, and to them risk doesn’t mean possibility or potential. It means the fear of less money for public services and a potential reduction in the kind of perks which middle class people like myself are supposed to be beguiled by – free movement, low roaming charges, the European Union Youth Orchestra. The idea of risking material comfort or stability for mere democracy or the chance of further constitutional change seems absurd to them – if it can’t be counted on an Excel spreadsheet and slapped onto a smug infographic to be shared on Twitter, it can’t possibly count as a valid argument about Brexit, goes their thinking.

Such people can only think in terms of Economic Brexit, and will not debate with you in good faith on any other topic – many refuse to even acknowledge the existence of constitutional or cultural concerns other than dismissing them as “xenophobia”, or angrily saying “of COURSE the EU needs further reform!” without ever specifying what this reform should look like. There is, in other words, a huge empathy gap between the two Britains, and since Remainers are often not shy in declaring themselves “better” than us unwashed Brexiteers I would submit that the duty is primarily theirs to close it.

Pete North has for a long time done a great job of dissecting both aspects of Brexit – the Economic Brexit with its need to get to grips with the minutiae of trade agreements and regulatory systems, and also the Constitutional/Cultural Brexit which gets too little attention from most commentators. But he really knocks it out of the park in his latest piece, writing:

I am often told that we Brexiters are pining for long lost glory – fighting for a better yesterday. But what if we are and what if we are not wrong? What if the relentless march of “prosperity” is eradicating the best part of us? No misty-eyed tales will be told of sitting in a Frankie and Benny’s while tapping one’s foot to the generic tones of Shania Twain.

[..] One thing one notes about modern British cultural history is that every recession is marked by a musical revolution. We had 70’s punk, 80’s metal, 90’s rave and ever since, especially since the smoking ban, culture has gone into hibernation. The place you would have booked for your face melting techno all nighter is now a Debenhams complex. If there is one defining quality of modern progressive Britain then it is the relentless commercialised tedium of it.

As we have gradually sanitised our living spaces we have also sanitised our culture and one cannot help thinking we are now sanitising thought. This is clear from the onslaught of safe space culture so that our delicate metrosexual hipster children are protected from ideas that that may lead them to stray from the path of bovine leftist conformity.

I can’t really speak to rave culture, so I’ll have to take Pete’s word for that. But there is much truth in what he says. Nobody can deny that we live in an age of technological miracles. People of my age, who experienced the early internet in our teenage years and just about remember a life before it, have to concede that much. And as a country – as the West – we are undoubtedly more prosperous. I am continually astonished walking through London, thinking back to how much scruffier and run down everything looked in the 1990s when I came on daytrips from Harlow as a boy, how dramatically the skyline has changed, how few restaurants there were compared to now, how much less variety and choice there was in all things only a decade ago.

By nearly every measurable metric we are better off and our prospects are brighter, and yet something intangible has been lost. The economic heart has been ripped out of my hometown of Harlow, Essex, with many of the prestigious large employers now gone and replaced with vast distribution centres offering only minimum wage work. The town centre is decayed and scruffy; a town of nearly 100,000 people that can no longer sustain a Marks & Spencer’s department store; charity shops and temporary seasonal stores occupying the places where more permanent, upmarket businesses once were.

Meanwhile, when my wife and I go shopping at the upmarket Westfield mall in White City everything is polished and perfect, but you could be anywhere – Houston, Paris, Dubai, Melbourne, Hong Kong. Globalisation and economic growth have brought gleaming homogeneity to the places frequented by globe-hoppers like me, but slow decay to towns like the one where I was raised.

By no means can all of this be laid at the foot of the European Union. But stories like these need to be repeated over and over again because there are still many people who fail to understand that the months and years prior to the EU referendum were in fact not Golden Years for many people.

And “Golden Years” brings me on to David Bowie, and back to the point Pete North was making. When Bowie died early in 2016, writer Neil Davenport lamented that our current youth culture could never create anything like him again:

It’s worth remembering that Bowie slogged on the margins for ages, in two-bit bands, recording very minor songs, before finally finding his voice. Back then, British society created a kind of free space in which young people who were willing to take the unpredictable route of cultural experimentation could do so.

This, too has been lost, which I think is what Pete means when he says that our culture has “gone into hibernation”. As I remarked at the time:

Who would have thought that calls to outlaw clapping and booing, tearful temper tantrums about dress codes, stifling ideas by labelling them ‘problematic’, the insistence on safe spaces and mandatory sexual consent workshops for students would have such a repressive, suffocating effect on our society?

That’s not to say that there is no great new talent emerging seven decades after the birth of David Bowie – clearly there is. But time and again, we see the biggest acts and pop stars of today are more eager to ostentatiously embrace prevailing social values as an act of public virtue-signalling rather than court controversy by cutting across today’s strictly policed social norms.

Lady Gaga took no risk when she sang “I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way” – indeed it opened the door to stadiums full of even more lucrative fans. That’s not to say that she was wrong to do so; but how often do you see an emerging pop star court real controversy or confound society’s expectations these days? You can blame some of this on commercialisation, sure, but not all of it. Something deeper is at work.

When emerging artists see ordinary people shamed and ostracised for saying the “wrong” thing or even just adopting the wrong tone on social media, how many will have the courage to incorporate anything truly daring or potentially “offensive” in their acts, or create spontaneously from the heart without first processing everything through the paranoid filter of societal acceptability?

The societal changes we have undergone in the last three decades are not insignificant, and they have not been to the benefit of all people. I think I feel this keenly and am able to empathise with Cultural Brexiteers because I have a foot in both worlds.

I have a pretty nice middle class life in North London surrounded by fellow “citizens of the world”, but I was born and raised in a Brexit town. To me, the inhabitants of Brexitland are not abstracts or nasty composite caricatures painted by the Guardian – they are fundamentally decent human beings, real people of flesh and blood who want the best for their families and children. They are friends and former work colleagues for whom voting Tory or Labour made very little difference over the past twenty years because both main parties represented the same basic consensus (of which support for the EU was emblematic).

Pete concludes with what passes for a message of hope:

In effect I see the natural consequence of Brexit being what Cameron imagined as the Big Society, where ideas like free schools and “CareBnB” can take root. In the absence of state provision people can and do fill the void. All these ideas have been tested but not allowed to take root because they are a threat to various blobs who are well served by ossified state structures.

I hope so. Aside from Brexit, David Cameron’s aborted Big Society was the last thing which passed for a significant political idea in this country, and it had merit.

The revitalisation of our civil society has a value, as does the revivification of our democracy (if only we can build on Brexit and demand that powers reclaimed from Brussels filter down further than Westminster). It may not be possible to count them up in a spreadsheet but their value is real, as is the positive impact of living in communities which are more than homogenised temporary landing pads for globe-hopping citizens of the world or run-down ghettos to house the people who serve them.

This is cultural Brexit. It’s not that the European Union is the source of every last one of these woes. It’s that many people who defend the EU and supported Remain are as deaf to the concerns of Constitutional Brexiteers as people who think globalisation is all benefit and no downside are deaf to the criticisms of those who oppose the centrist consensus. The deafness to both concerns is the same, because in both cases they are overwhelmingly the same people.

It is this failure of empathy and imagination which first gave the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, and then gave us Brexit. The anti-establishment backlash which powered Donald Trump to the White House was also similar, though Brexit is much more coherent than Trump’s grievance-fuelled manifesto.

Remainers can keep shouting about Brexiteers being wrong, stupid or evil. They can delude themselves that we were all hoodwinked by a red campaign bus or Russian propaganda. But if they want to tackle that pervasive feeling of divorce and estrangement from their own country which many of them painfully feel, they will simply have to consider that theirs is not the only valid or reason-based prism through which to view Brexit.

Remainers must be bold and confront rather than dismiss Cultural Brexit. And they must dare to imagine that regardless of how this government’s rather ham-fisted attempt at Brexit plays out, those who voted for Britain to leave the European Union may just be on the right side of history after all.

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The Seven Deadly Sins Of Pro-European Union ‘Remain’ Campaigners

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Zealotry, pessimism, denialism, idiocy, treachery, materialism and sloth – the Seven Deadly Sins of those campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union

The Financial Times reports on German moves to bring long-simmering plans for an eventual European army back to the boil with the submission of a significant new white paper – the release of which has been conveniently deferred until Britain’s EU referendum is concluded:

Germany is to push for progress towards a European army by advocating a joint headquarters and shared military assets, according to defence plans that could ricochet into Britain’s EU referendum campaign.

Although Berlin has long paid lip-service to forming a “European defence union”, the white paper is one of the most significant for Germany in recent years and may be seized by anti-integration Brexit campaigners as a sign where the bloc is heading.

Initially scheduled to emerge shortly before the June 23 referendum vote but now probably delayed to July, the draft paper seen by the Financial Times outlines steps to gradually co-ordinate Europe’s patchwork of national militaries and embark on permanent co-operation under common structures.

[..] At the European level, the paper calls for “the use of all possibilities” available under EU treaties to establish deep co-operation between willing member states, create a joint civil-military headquarters for EU operations, a council of defence ministers, and better co-ordinate the production and sharing of military equipment.

“The more we Europeans are ready to take on a greater share of the common burden and the more our American partner is prepared to go along the road of common decision-making, the further the transatlantic security partnership will develop greater intensity and richer results,” the paper states.

This is not shocking. This is not surprising. This is what the gradual creep toward European political union looks like. Proposals like this are raised before being quietly deprioritised, seemingly dropped in the face of political backlash, only to be resurrected and advanced once more, each time gaining a little more ground until the end result is achieved – not necessarily by its original name (as with the Constitution) but always in practical effect. No never means no with the European Union. It simply means brief retrenchment before pressing ahead the same thing with a slightly different label.

At this point I do not know what more can be said, what further evidence can be presented, to convince people that the European Union is not the benign, happy-go-lucky club of friendly countries occasionally coming together on a super voluntary basis to fight crime, Save the Earth and braid each other’s hair that they are so desperate to believe it to be.

The EU is not shy about its intended direction of travel. None of the EU’s “founding fathers” were remotely shy about what they wanted their creation to become. For all of its bureaucracy, the Brussels machinery is usually quite transparent in its workings, for those with the patience to look and discover what they do in our name. And yet there persists a massive disconnect between the European Union’s own self-declared purpose and the way in which it is perceived and portrayed in Britain.

I once ran for the train at London Euston station, intending to go to the city of Wolverhampton (don’t ask why). But I didn’t look closely enough at the departure screen, and accidentally boarded the service to Manchester, engrossed on a phone call, only realising my error when the train first stopped at Stoke-on-Trent. But crucially, once I realised my mistake I did not stay on the train in the forlorn hope that by staying in my seat I might still somehow end up in the West Midlands. No – I got off the train and rectified the error. I did so because like most people, on matters of travel I am capable of perceiving and understanding objective reality – in this case, the reality that I was sitting on a train taking me at great speed to somewhere I had no wish to go. My destination and that of the other passengers were irreconcilably different.

As it was with my ill-fated train adventure, so it is with Britain, currently being borne along on the semi-fast service to European political integration. It should now be abundantly clear to everyone that the destination is not “friendly trade and cooperation” as the EU’s desperate apologists claim, and yet many wavering voters still believe that if they close their eyes, ignore the mounting signs and stay fearfully on the train, it will take them somewhere acceptable.

And I don’t get it. I just do not understand those of my fellow countrymen who are educated people and not hardcore European federalists – people who do not want Britain to become subsumed into a European political union or cast aside as the rejected half-member with no influence on the periphery – but who nonetheless intend to vote Remain in this EU referendum. I’m not being dramatic. I have tried very hard to put myself in the position of a soft Remain supporter, and I can no longer do it. Clearly I have passed the Brexiteer event horizon and can no longer turn back, not that I wish to. And I speak as a former hardcore euro-federalist (back in my student days).

Basically, to vote Remain in this EU referendum, one quite simply has to either:

1. Be a committed euro-federalist, eager for a United States of Europe

2. Understand that this is the end goal, abhor it, but think so little of Britain’s prospects as an independent, globally-engaged nation that being part of such a European state seems like the “least worst” option

3. Summon enormous powers of denial in order to ignore the EU’s trajectory and accept at face value David Cameron’s fraudulent assertion that he has secured meaningful concessions from Brussels

4. Be incredibly ignorant of recent history and basic, easy to research facts

5. Actively wish harm to one’s own country and democracy

But perhaps that is not entirely fair. As I wrote recently, I can see how some voters – particularly those from my own Millennial generation – might choose to prioritise short term financial stability over long-term democratic health, though I think that such people seriously underestimate the risks inherent in surrendering the last vestiges of our democracy to an unaccountable supra-national government. And of course some people are just incredibly apathetic.

So there are also the further two possibilities:

6. Self-centred materialism

7. Laziness and apathy concerning an issue of fundamental importance

That’s it. Those are the choices. Zealot, pessimist, denialist, idiot, traitor, materialist or sloth.

If you are planning to vote Remain in the EU referendum, which one are you?

 

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By Failing To Back Brexit, Millennial Voters Are Failing Their Generation’s First Great Test Of Character

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Millennial voters who lazily but instinctively support Britain remaining in the European Union are letting down their country and their entire generation

Lately, this blog has been focusing on the younger, millennial generation and our unfortunate propensity to think as scared consumers rather than engaged citizens, and so overwhelmingly support Britain remaining in the European Union (even if many of us are too lazy to carry our opinions as far as the ballot box).

In taking this stance, I have encountered some pushback from readers, who have (rightly) pointed to the fact that older generations can be equally greedy and self-interested, but (wrongly) drawn a false equivalence between the two.

While not all young Remainers hold their position because of perceived material self-interest, those who completely ignore the democratic question to focus exclusively on their own material (typically career and travel) prospects – which would almost certainly be completely unaffected in the event of Brexit – are fully deserving of the criticism levelled at them by this blog and others.

The Guardian breaks down the latest polling data:

Government strategists and pollsters privately admit that the central problem for the Remain side is that its support for staying in the EU is strongest among young people, the group least likely to vote. Opinium found that in the 18-34 age group, 53% said they backed staying in, against 29% who wanted to leave. But only just over half (52%) in this age group said they were certain to actually go out and vote.

Among voters in the 55-and-over category, support for leaving was far stronger, as was their certainty to vote, offering a huge advantage to the Leave side.

Some 54% of voters aged 55 and over said they wanted to leave against 30% who wanted the UK to remain in the EU. But in stark contrast to younger voters, 81% of this group were certain to vote.

Perhaps our generation is in need of a wake-up call. This particular tirade (quoted below) is addressed to American millennials flirting with the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, but parts of it apply equally to younger British voters indignant that the Leave campaign’s quest to restore democracy is interfering with their perceived career options springing from the munificent European Union.

Courtney Kirchoff writes over at Steve Crowder’s website:

Adulthood isn’t what we thought it would be. No, the economy these past several years hasn’t exactly been stellar, either. Okay? Okay.

My fellow millennials, for sure we have our challenges. Many of you were raised in broken homes. Many of you were exposed to divorce. It’s possible a lot of you didn’t live with your father or may not have known him at all. Combine home life with the rise of political correctness in school, taking its dangerous form of “self-esteem above all,” and no wonder you think life is unfair but you should have it all.

Look, I’m sorry life screwed you over in the early years. I’m sorry if you were shuffled to daycare day in and day out. I’m sorry if you don’t have memories of playing with your parents. But most of all, I’m sorry you were not instilled with the grand idea of personal responsibility. I’m sorry you were not empowered with the notion that YOU are the commander of your own life. If you take nothing else from this post, believe that no matter who you are, you can succeed. Without government.

Because guess what, my friends? You’re abject loyalty to socialism is going to tank our country. Your insistence on getting what you want and making other people pay for it, all under the guise of “fairness,” will lead to ruin. For everyone. Including you.

Switch out “socialism” and “government” and replace it with “the EU” and you have a perfect response to the EU’s millennial cheerleaders.

Yes, of course this is an age of anxiety. Just as the boomer generation seriously worried about imminent nuclear annihilation, so we worry about job security and career prospects. But we are hardly a uniquely benighted generation, though there are indeed many ways which our politics currently favours older voters – the government’s lack of a coherent housing policy being an obvious example.

But I’m sorry: growing up in economically uncertain times in an age where there is no guaranteed job for life does not absolve millennials – my generation – from thinking not only as self-interested consumers but also as engaged citizens who care about the country and democracy that they will bequeath to their own descendants.

The generation who spent their prime years fighting fascism – and who saw their contemporary Britain largely reduced to rubble and ruin in the process – could have abstained en masse from fighting the Nazi threat in order to buy a few more years of economic security and job stability through appeasement. But they were willing to go to war and risk what they had for principles which transcended material concerns.

By contrast, our generation is not called to risk or sacrifice nearly as much as our grandparents and great grandparents were to defend democracy and national self-determination – and in fact could have much to gain from British secession from the European Union, materially and otherwise. But by an overwhelming majority we are unwilling to take even that far smaller risk.

And history will long note this colossal failure of courage and character from Generation Me Me Me.

 

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Self-Entitled Young People For Remain

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The EU’s young cheerleaders have lots to say about their own material self-interest, but fall strangely silent when it comes to democracy

After Abi Wilkinson’s petulant complaint that Leave campaigners attempting to restore British democracy are harming the job prospects of the young, we now have another youthful but clueless voice making the same case.

Presenting Richard Godwin in the Evening Standard:

I just feel European. I’m part of a generation that has had easy access to mainland Europe for both work and play.

I like Penélope Cruz and Daft Punk and tiki-taka and Ingmar Bergman and spaghetti and absinthe and saunas and affordable trains.

As sentimental as it sounds, Europe represents opportunity, cosmopolitanism, modernity, romance, enrichment, adventure to me

Cutting all that off — even symbolically — would feel both spiteful and arbitrary.

Quite why leaving the explicitly political construct of the European Union would mean that Richard Godwin is no longer part of the continent of Penelope Cruz and Daft Punk is never explained – because of course, it wouldn’t. We would be cutting off nothing, symbolically or otherwise, aside from the dead weight of a supranational political organisation which suppresses democracy in a misguided attempt to harmonise 28 distinct European countries into a single, new European state.

But then at least Godwin has the decency to admit that he is being driven primarily by instinct, unlike the hapless Abi Wilkinson who seemed to suggest that the pro-europeanism of the young is based on enlightened consideration while the pro-democracy euroscepticism of older generations is based on selfishness and whimsy (when of course youthful pro-europeanism is almost entirely the product of ignorance and selfishness).

Sadly, this does not stop Godwin from lecturing us about how young people – my generation – have a greater stake in the future:

It should go without saying that the young have more stake in the future but it’s also contrary to electoral logic. Only 34 per cent of over-65s are in favour of remaining, there are more of them, and they’re more likely to vote.

It means that young people end up in a death spiral, defeated by their own disillusionment. But my hunch is that the only way to change that is with an appeal to hearts rather than heads. Shouldn’t we always aspire to act together rather than alone?

Apparently Godwin’s only concern for the future is that he has the maximum chance of living in a big house with lots of shiny consumer goods to distract him from the fact that he no longer lives in a democracy, has no influence over the decisions which affect his life and has no way of removing the people who make all the key decisions.

In other words, Richard Godwin, like Abi Wilkinson, is thinking primarily as a consumer. Material considerations (job, house, iPhones) consume his every thought – at no point in his paean to the European Union did he even mention democracy or self-determination, or acknowledge any of the many and growing flaws in the EU’s governance.

And of course despite the scaremongering of the Remain campaign, there is no evidence to suggest that Britain would face economic ruin by leaving the EU – and every reason to believe that staying in the EU only perpetuates a discredited, anachronistic model of regional protectionism rather than the global regulation and removal of non-tariff trade barriers that are really needed to unleash global trade and unleash real prosperity.

But Godwin wouldn’t know about any of that, because he is too busy eating spaghetti, watching Penelope Cruz movies and congratulating himself for being such an enlightened, post-national, European citizen. He doesn’t care about the history, traditions or culture of the country which gave him life and liberty – or if he does, they are very much secondary thoughts compared to the ignorant and false assumption that he will no longer be able to work and play in Europe if we become an independent, self-governing country again.

Apparently Richard Godwin is happy to behave and be seen as a selfish consumer first and foremost, rather than an engaged citizen whose thoughts extend beyond his own narrow interest. And that’s actually fine. I hope that more Richard Godwins and Abi Wilkinsons come crawling out of the woodwork as this EU referendum campaign goes on.

Because every new spoilt millennial who comes blinking from their parents’ basement to complain that the evil Leave campaign is threatening their gilded future serves to prove that this campaign is about principled citizenship versus naked self interest.

Very few people are covering themselves in glory in this EU referendum campaign. But the European Union’s youthful cheerleaders from Generation Me Me Me are clearly intent on doing everything they can to make young people look as bad as possible.

 

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