London, 14 March 2019 – Brexit and climate change dominated the programme on the first day of the European Young Leaders seminar in London held Friday as the House of Commons prepared for a key vote on Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The Young Leaders heard how the Brexit debate had torn Britain’s political system asunder creating new rifts running deeper than the traditional Conservative v. Labour split.
"The division over whether you are a Remainer or a Brexiter is by far the deepest division in this country," said Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist.
"It’s a really big social division," she told the group. "This is not going to go away. It’s caused a schism in both parties simultaneously. We are seeing a fundamental remaking of British politics."
The three-day seminar was the first for the 2019 cohort of the 40-under-40 European Young Leader programme run by Friends of Europe, who included trendsetters in fields ranging from FinTech to philosophy, politics to pop.
Participants warned that many of the social and political forces leading to Brexit were far from unique to the United Kingdom.
"I don’t think it is a phenomenon that is unique to this country," cautioned Thomas Raines, Head of the Europe Programme at Chatham House. "It’s driven by forces and processes that all European countries are going to have to confront at some time."
On climate change, the EYLs engaged with a high-profile panel of experts who warned of a pressing crisis but saw hope in the increasingly powerful response of citizens taking action to demand change and modify their own behaviour.
"It’s usually been that the responsibility is with governments and we as individuals will follow and that is changing," said Justin Mundy, Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute. "We have an existential crisis that demands that we take responsibility."