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Is Theresa May planning to go soft on Brexit?

Some Tory MPs believe that Theresa May is pulling the wool over Brexiteer eyes. 

What is the row over putting the date of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union into law about?

There’s the literal interpretation: that Theresa May has decided that she wants to put the date into law for the reasons publicly announced – to send a message to soft Brexiteers and full-fat Remainers in the Commons that she’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

But forcing the vote on the issue is a headache for Julian Smith, her Chief Whip, and for any loyal Conservative MP with a large Remain vote and Labour or the Liberal Democrats in a clear second-place. It saps goodwill and further adds to the bad atmosphere in the Tory party. It also doesn’t give the government anything even if they can enshrine it into law, which looks likely.

As it stands, unless parliament moves decisively and quickly to reshape the Brexit process, the United Kingdom will leave at 23:00 GMT regardless of how it votes because that’s how the Article 50 process works. As I wrote yesterday, the constitutional position means that unless Conservative Remainers are willing to do serious damage to the government, the crucial moments – the Article 50 vote and the Queen's Speech in July – to actually shape the direction of Brexit have largely passed. 

None of the amendments put forward thus far have both (a) a realistic chance of passing the House, and (b) actually take anything close to the required steps to change the government’s Brexit asks. There is no upside to the row for the PM, unless she gets a particular thrill from being defeated and embarrassed in public. 

It is of course possible that May is simply so dense that light cannot escape her. But some pro-Remain Conservatives have another theory: that the Prime Minister is laying the groundwork for a gentler Brexit than their colleagues expect.

To move the Brexit talks forward, the United Kingdom is going to need to up its offer on money and will have to concede something on the Irish border as well. In addition, the period of transition is too short – the British government took seven years to join a much-less complicated organisation in the first place – and there will have to be movement on the role of the European Court during the transition. So setting the time we leave into law, and setting it at midnight in Brussels no less, then becomes a handy way of convincing Tory Brexiteers that you’re serious. 

Farfetched? Perhaps, but easier to explain than a row with literally no other benefits to Theresa May. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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The UK is suffering from an extreme case of generational inequality

Millennials across the developed world are struggling. But the UK stands out. 


“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

Joni Mitchell’s lyrics may refer to her first trip to Hawaii, but they could just as easily apply to UK trends in generational living standards that the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission has uncovered. That’s particularly so in light of new analysis comparing these trends internationally.

While there are huge living standards differences between high-income countries, there is also much shared ground, with the financial crisis and demographic patterns putting pressure on younger generations’ living standards everywhere. But the UK stands out. With the partial exception of Spain, no other country in living memory has experienced as large a “boom and bust” in generation-on-generation progress across both incomes and home ownership rates.

On incomes, the millennials (born 1980-2000) who have reached their early 30s are just 6 per cent better off than generation X (born 1966-80) when they were the same age. This is very small progress indeed when compared with the progress older generations are enjoying – baby boomers (born 1946-65) in their late 60s are 29 per cent better off than the silent generation (born 1926-1945).

These sorts of slowdowns have occurred in most countries, but not to the same extent. In the US, millennials in their early 30s are doing 5 per cent worse than their predecessors, but this compares to relatively modest 11 per cent gains for generation X relative to the baby boomers. In fact, in the US – despite higher levels of income – the absence of generational progress is what stands out. Typical incomes in the US for those aged 45-49 are no higher for those born in the late 1960s than they were for those born in the early 1920s.

Back to the UK. The “had it then lost it” story is also clear when we look at housing. Our previous research has shown that young people in the UK face much higher housing costs (relative to incomes) than older generations did when they were making their way in the world. In a large part this is driven by the rise and fall of home ownership.UK home ownership rates surged by 29 percentage points between the greatest generation (born 1911-1926) and the baby boomers, but this generation-on-generation progress has been all but wiped out for millennials. Their home ownership rate in their late 20s, at 33 per cent, is 27 percentage points lower than the rate for the baby boomers at the same age (60 per cent).

This fall between generations is much smaller in other countries in which housing is a key areas of concern such as Australia (a 12 percentage points fall from boomers to millennials) and the US (a 6 percentage point fall). As with incomes, the UK shows the strongest boom and bust – large generation-on-generation gains for today’s older cohorts followed by stagnation or declines for younger ones.

Let’s be clear though, the UK is a relatively good place to grow up. Ours is one of the most advanced economies in the world, with high employment rates for all age groups. In other advanced economies, young people have suffered immensely as a result of the financial crisis. For example, in Greece millennials in their early 30s are a shocking 31 per cent worse off than generation X were at the same age. In Spain today the youth (15-30) unemployment rate is still above 30 per cent, over three times higher than it is in the UK.

But, if everything is relative – before the parking lot came the paradise – then the UK’s situation isn’t one to brush away. Small income gains are, obviously, better than big income falls. But what matters for a young person in the UK today probably isn’t how well they’re doing relative to a young person in Italy but how this compares with their expectations, which have been shaped by the outcomes of their parents and grandparents. It’s no surprise that the UK is one of the most pessimistic countries about the prospects for today’s young.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be like this. In other parts of the world and at other times, large generation-on-generation progress has happened. Building more homes, having strong collective bargaining and delivering active labour market policies that incentivise work are things we know make a difference. As politicians attempt to tackle the UK’s intergenerational challenges, they should remember to look overseas for lessons.