Tom Peck's Sketch: Votes for sixteen year olds? Not without a sunbed first.

What is the government's case for not allowing 16 year olds a vote in the EU referendum? They're not allowed a sunbed either.

Tom Peck
Parliamentary Sketch Writer
Tuesday 08 December 2015 18:48 GMT
Junior Cabinet Office Minister John Penrose says sunbeds are the reasons 16 year olds can't have the vote.
Junior Cabinet Office Minister John Penrose says sunbeds are the reasons 16 year olds can't have the vote. (BBC)

A responsible attitude to tanning doesn’t immediately seem like the most crucial condition for EU membership, but then you realise the government has got it exactly right. The Italians, the Spaniards, the Greeks, Robert Kilroy-Silk: it is the swarthy men of Europe that are by some measure the sickest.

Junior Cabinet Office minister John Penrose was absolutely right then, as he addressed the House of Commons to make the government’s case for why 16 and 17 year olds should not be allowed to vote in the EU referendum, to cite that generation’s fundamental untrustworthiness at the tanning salon as proof of their unsuitability for the responsibilities of democracy.

16 year olds, he admitted, can pay tax, join the army, watch BBC Question Time and snapchat their own scrotum all at the same time, but: “Since the last Labour government raised the age of using a sunbed to 18, it surely cannot be right that someone cannot be trusted to decide on the risks of getting a tan, but can be trusted to choose who governs the country.”

So that’s that then. Sorry kids. Because the grown ups decided you can’t have a sunbed, you can’t have a vote either. Then the grown ups voted on that too, and they won: 303 to 253.

It’s a pity it has come to thus when there are such obvious ways around the impasse. Give 16 and 17 year olds their own referendum. Which do you want: votes or sunbeds? If they opt for their own enfranchisement then they ought to be taken seriously. Sunbeds win the day and they’ve proved the doubters right. Plus, they’ll be easy to spot at the polling booths.

As with everything that occurs at Westminster these days, the debate could not be left to pass without a lengthy intervention from the SNP. Scottish teenagers can vote in Holyrood elections, independence referenda (as many as it takes), but not this. “How do I explain that my constituents,” asked Owen Thompson, Patrick Grady, Peter Grant, Stephen Gethins, Billy Connolly, John Logie Baird and Begbie from Trainspotting.

Well, given those same teenage constituents, almost a year ago, weighed up the evidence in front of them and made a balanced decision to remain subject to the governed will of the United Kingdom, you’d think they wouldn’t need it explaining to them. But given even their youngest MP has just about escaped her teenage years, such sophisticated reasoning may be beyond them.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in