Bonne après-midi, citoyens! Today is the first day of Thermidor in the French revolutionary calendar. Now, as then, your country demands you make sacrifices: specifically, it has just raised the state pension age from 67 to 68 seven years earlier than previously planned.
What does this have to do with Brexit? Maybe a lot. Raising the state pension age this early was one of the key recommendations of the Cridland Report, published in March. That report noted that “lower net migration would increase the cost of the state pension”, and Mr Cridland himself told a conference audience that a hard Brexit might require further age hikes. The idea is that, since immigrants are disproportionately young, having fewer of them means proportionately more retired people being supported by fewer workers.
Although the infamous pledge to bring net migration below 100,000 was scrubbed from the Queen’s Speech, it’s still the PM’s ambition. A hard Brexit which prioritises cutting immigration over staying in the single market is still the UK game plan. According to the ONS, net migration is already falling, with emigration of EU citizens driving a statistically significant drop of 84,000 between 2015 and 2016. The Government’s move may signal that it agrees there will be downsides to less immigration, and is preparing the groundwork for that day.
Note, however, that it did not accept the Cridland Report’s other big recommendation: ending the triple lock which guarantees pensions will rise at a steady rate. In the current anti-austerity mood, I’m not surprised; PMQs today was all about pensions, the NHS, and public sector pay. Mrs May, once burned, will not be eager to again attempt to sell voters on any more necessary hardship.
Even though there was no immediate post-Brexit financial apocalypse, some Remainers have continued to rely on dire predictions in place of strategy. In their view, as the economic consequences of Brexit begin to bite, the people will start to turn against it, and like Napoleon’s army marching into Russia the Brexit coalition will fracture. That sounds fanciful, but it’s not out of the question: YouGov’s poll asking “do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote leave?” has moved since the beginning of the year from a 4-point lead for “right” to a 1 point lead for “wrong”, even as the percentage of people predicting we’ll be economically worse off has grown from 37 to 40.
As our negotiators continue to quibble over the price of “divorce”, reportedly even bringing up the vexed question of the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, it may be that the most delicate balancing act for Theresa May is at home.
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