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Dear Uncle Bert and Aunty Gert: my family is split on EU vote. What should I do?


I'm a 50 year old father of a twenty five year old son and a 22 year old daughter. My wife is 48.

We are a family divided: my wife and I think that Britain would be better if we leave the EU and our children think it would be better if we stayed.

It's causing friction within a family that is usually so comfortable around each other.

How can we get back to not fighting?

Bert Says

First, if you've gone through the whole of their growing up without serious friction, you all deserve a medal. It's incredible.

Secondly, it is generally accepted that the EU vote is, to a degree, split on generational lines. One of the big issues is that no one under 40 years old knows what life in the UK was like before the EU. No one under 25 knows what it was like before the big push for unification known (in Britain) as the 1992 project which laid much of the groundwork for many of today's complaints.

What we do know is that the EU is, in broad terms, led by a coalition of left-leaning governments. When the UK has a Conservative government, we are the only significant counter-balance to a drift to the left that began with the Treaty of Rome, before the UK joined. When we have a Labour government, Europe as a whole takes another lurch towards being a socialist super-state. It is important, then, to know that there are fundamental issues involved which are, generally, being ignored in the debate.

It is important that young people know that this is not the UK's first referendum on EU membership. In 1975, the European Union was sold to us as a trade community: at that point, little or nothing was mentioned about the political objectives of the Union, even though they were in the Treaty of Rome. Britain had come out of the 1960s and its "I'm backing Britain" campaigns with the need to expand the markets for its manufactured goods, including the products of its heavy industries ranging from mining, through petro-chemicals and other chemicals-based businesses, through steel, shipbuilding, bridge-building and the automotive industry. A Europe-wide market in coal and steel, which was the forerunner of the Common Market, as it was called, was a very good thing. Britain had already been taken into the Common Market and the 1975 referendum was, like the one planned for June 2016, a decision as to whether to stay in or come out.

However, as time went on, and as the EU became increasingly political, those who feel that the UK lost, without full discussion, its right to self-determination and enforcement of laws and who now realise how impotent the British parliaments have become under an increasingly powerful federal Europe, are grateful for the opportunity to undo what they see as their bad decision in 1975.

The young tend to favour socialism, albeit in generally milder forms. As people get older, they generally prefer to maintain the status quo unless there is an imperative to change. It is, therefore, significant that the June 2016 vote has different parameters.

The young are, in many cases, in favour of the status quo and, off the back of that, the continuation of the EU's political objectives. The old are in favour of change, albeit a change that winds back the clock, insofar as it is possible.

If your family arguments meet this analysis then there are a couple of things you can do. First, don't discuss it the vote but do discuss what Europe has done for us, and on the other side of the coin, what we have lost as a result.

Wheel in an impartial observer: suggest that your children ask your parents what life was like before the Common Market and if they preferred it then or now. Most children that argue with their parents listen to their grandparents.

Most of all, ask them to explain, with supported arguments, exactly what they think is so good about being in Europe and whether they can see whether those things would be possible in a stand-alone Britain. And you tell them, also supported, why you think an exit is in their interests and those of their own, future, children.

Gert Says

I agree. Let's start a hashtag #AskGrandad.

Like Bert, I know how much information was not given to us in the 1975 referendum. We were not lied to, as such, but there was certainly a large failure to communicate the full picture. Ironically, at that time, it was, mostly, the left who objected to the Common Market and conservatives who were in favour of it.

It's important that all of you educate yourselves on the topics that matter - you could do that together like you used to do for homework projects.

The issues are far more complicated than those for a domestic election but they are not being discussed. There is a focus on migration and border security and that's right - it's a huge problem. But there are other things too: MEPs' pay, MEPs' allowances, MEPs' accountability, the effectiveness of MEPs. There's the UK's right to define and enforce its own laws, the recent taking of control over the regulation of much of the financial sector... There are hundreds of areas that voters need to be properly informed about but instead we are being fed a dribble of sound-bites as one or other group takes control of the agenda - and increasingly, that includes pushing non-EU information off the front pages.

You should not try to impose your views on your children - but nor should they try to berate you with theirs. Dogmatism is the tool of extremism: information is the ally of freedom. As Bert said, work together to find the answers, so they and you learn the good and the bad as a team, not as points scorers in a competition. Finish your research with an agenda, don't have an agenda when you start.

Good luck.



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