It is clear, though, that both sides have numerous supporters and the campaign will be vigorous. The voting to remain in the EU will be a vote against the risks to economic prosperity. Those voting for Brexit will be supporting Britain’s independence from Europe, primarily rejecting the tight control from Brussels. By virtue of the Brexit referendum, the nature of the European project will have been irrevocably altered, with “no return to the status quo ante.” Whatever the result on June 23, Brexit is going to be a campaign to remember.
By Georgiana Constantin | March 1, 2016
British Prime Minister David Cameron has set June 23 as the date for voters to choose whether the UK will retain or withdraw its membership from the European Union. The referendum question that will be put to voters is: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” A decision to leave the 28 member bloc would affect the UK, Gibraltar and the EU itself.
Aggravated by the continuous flow of immigrants, overwhelming number of refugees, inability to control its own borders and, in some cases, its economy, Great Britain is now having second thoughts as to whether or not it wants to remain a part of the European Union. There is now serious concern over a potential British vote to exit the EU, a so called “Brexit.”
Unfortunately, the financial troubles of 2008 seem to have sent the European project into a continuous downward spiral, economically, politically and, one might argue, even culturally, exposing its diversity and weaknesses. The summer of 2015 brought financial and political problems to Greece and a subsequent vote of the country’s citizens on whether or not they should leave the aspirant super state. What would have been a dangerous precedent set by a first nation to leave the European project – the so called “Grexit” – was only narrowly avoided and, after the Greek people voted to stay, the business of the Union went on as usual. The situation in Greece remains far from stable, but the fear that it might opt out of the Union has been put aside, for now.
As for the “Brexit” debate, the situation presents itself at a most inopportune time as the whole of the EU is dealing with strenuous refugee issues, while also trying to stay afloat politically and economically. The citizens of Great Britain have been going back and forth on the idea of abandoning the EU. However, numbers in the pro and anti-exit movements are quite close, so much so that any slight alteration might tip the scale one way or the other. Apparently, as Time reports, in the wake of the migrant relocation plan mandated by Berlin-Brussels 53 percent of UK citizens said they wanted to continue being part of the EU, while 47 percent would have opted for an exit. After the Paris terrorist attacks, 52 percent would have opted to exit the EU while 48 percent would still have remained. Recently, the numbers seem to have shifted back, as “an ORB poll last month showed that those numbers had flipped […] with 52 percent opting to stay and 48 percent in favor of Brexit.” This shows just how unpredictable a British vote to exit the EU could turn out to be.
Both the pro and anti-Brexit camps have well thought out reasons why they view the situations differently. It is evident, for instance that Britain, just as all other EU members, has to share matters of state sovereignty with the Union and that it must implement EU laws and measures within its territory. Such actions are becoming harder and harder for the UK to accept, especially in the wake of the refugee crisis that seems to be testing the economic and cultural resilience of the country.
This is the situation Nigel Ferage and his UK Independence Party, better known as UKIP, have been emphasizing, while campaigning for a “Brexit.” And, as EU supporter Charles Grant observes it can be hard to argue with the “Leave” campaigners, as most pro EU ideas refer to issues which are more specialized and harder to explain to the general public. “Opponents argue that under EU rules, Britain cannot control its national borders to shut out migrant workers; that the UK net contribution to the EU budget would be better spent on the National Health Service; and that foreign judges in the European Court of Justice should not be able to overrule British courts. By contrast, many of the benefits of EU membership in global trade, international political influence and shared norms and values are hard to quantify and explain simply.”
Leaving the EU would mean that Britain will have to start renegotiating its trade deals with other member states, which would imply dealing with the obstacle of trade tariffs, while also sorting out the fate of EU workers in Britain and British workers in the EU. At the same time, certain businesses and financial institutions are already preparing to leave Britain, if it should indeed exit. Moreover, warnings of more expensive air fares and less tourist safety have been issued in case of a “Brexit” scenario. Therefore, many argue that even if staying in the EU might cause some economic and political troubles, these would eventually be far worse if Britain were to go it alone.
But, Britain is an island apart from Continental Europe and it has retained its currency, the pound sterling, which has remained strong relative to the euro.
While Cameron had been trying to negotiate new terms for Britain’s EU membership before scheduling the referendum, the changes he secured have been described as modest. He argues that the principal winner of an EU exit would be President Vladimir Putin, as this would prove to him that the European project is no longer viable. And, setting such a radical precedent might indeed, some fear, affect most other European countries which have been more dissatisfied by centrally planned EU policies as of late.
Cameron takes the stance that the UK would have a lot more to gain from actually staying in the EU, and, as evidenced by research polls, so do many UK citizens. On the other hand, there are also countless Britons who cannot see the logic in continuing to be a part of a construction as fragile, diverse and risky as the European Union, where the country’s national sovereignty and independence are compromised. UKIP’s Nigel Ferage believes that the most important issue up for discussion with respect to the upcoming Brexit vote is immigration, and, if one is to observe the latest developments concerning the refugee crisis, it will come as no surprise that when Ferage speaks of the dangers of uncontrolled borders, people tend to listen to what he has to say.
It is clear, though, that both sides have numerous supporters and the campaign will be vigorous. The vote for remaining in the EU will be a vote against the risks to economic prosperity. Those voting for Brexit will be supporting Britain’s independence from Europe, primarily rejecting the tight control from Brussels. By virtue of the Brexit referendum, the nature of the European project will have been irrevocably altered, with “no return to the status quo ante.” Whatever the result on June 23, Brexit is going to be a campaign to remember.
Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest and is presently a political science doctoral candidate at the University of Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.