Brexit: Increase UK’s exit time to six years, says ex-taoiseach

Bruton tells summer school that immigrants could help pay for Ireland’s pensions deficit

Former taoiseach  John Bruton said many older people in Europe do not realise that their pensions are dependent on young people, many of whom will have to be immigrants. Photograph: The Irish Times

Former taoiseach John Bruton said many older people in Europe do not realise that their pensions are dependent on young people, many of whom will have to be immigrants. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The European Union should ease the pressure on its Brexit negotiations with the UK by lengthening the exit period from two to six years, according to a former taoiseach.

John Bruton, a former EU Ambassador to the United States, questioned whether Ireland and the other 26 EU member states could do more to facilitate more considered negotiations with the UK on Brexit and the implications it will have for both Britain and its trading partners, including Ireland.

“If the UK was still in the EU at the time of the next European elections in 2019, might not the Euro elections allow UK voters to take a more considered view of their Brexit choice?” asked Mr Bruton in the keynote address to the Daniel O’Connell Summer School in Cahersiveen.

Speaking to a packed auditorium, Mr Bruton noted that within the UK, older people were among the strongest supporters of Brexit, allegedly because of an aversion to immigration even though the areas with the greatest support for Brexit had the least recent immigration.

Mr Bruton noted that Daniel O’Connell was an internationalist and to be true to his legacy, Irish people must take their share of responsibility for facing up to the international moral issues of our time including climate change and mass immigration.

Europe’s population is declining with a birth rate of 1.6 per annum when a rate of 2.1 is required to maintain population levels but if present rates continue, then the population of Europe will decline faster over the next 20 years than at any time since the Black Death in the 14th century, he said.

“It is possible that immigration will belie that prediction. But, as we know, some ageing European countries have a difficulty in accepting immigrants with different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Germany is a notable exception. Our nearest neighbour is not,” he said.

Mr Bruton pointed out that the workforce in Africa is expanding rapidly with over 50 per cent of prospective population growth in the world in the next 30 years taking place but African economies will only be able to create one job for every three young people reaching working age.

“Europe is not only accounting for less of the world’s population but its population is getting older, partly because it’s living longer and, by 2050, the public pension systems of most European countries will go broke for lack of sufficient new contributors.

“Older populations have less energy, are more risk averse, and eventually retire from work altogether. So it should not surprise us that the ageing of a society slows that society’s economic growth rate. But that obvious fact is rarely mentioned in economic commentary.

“The European countries that do the best job in including immigrants as productive members of the local community, are the countries that will do best economically, and be best able to afford good health and pensions for their older citizens when they need it.”

He said many older voters in Europe do not see this fact as clearly as they should even though it is clear the continuance of present levels of support for older people’s social services was dependent on the taxes and productive work of younger people, many of whom will be immigrants.

Mr Bruton pointed out that Ireland’s national debt is currently €183 billion but its eventual contingent liability for PRSI and public service pensions comes to €422 billion which is not included in the national debt.

He said this contingent liability will be at its most onerous around 2050 which is when those now getting their first job will hope to be at the top of their salary scale but the shortfall will be three times what it is today.

He said even this stark scenario may be an underestimation if life expectancy continues to grow.

“On the other hand, it may prove to be an overestimate, if we have an enlightened and workable immigration policy and the age imbalance is rectified by an influx of non-Irish born people who will, because they are working here, be paying Irish taxes,” he said.