Referendum on EU splits Britian
With barely a week to go for the referendum on whether to quit the European Union (EU), the British appear to be in a state of confusion. In the past week, Brexit (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union) has gained nearly four points more than Remain, enforcing the belief that the people are in favour of quitting the EU. But scepticism has also started running high about the future of the United Kingdom.
The feeling that Britain would eventually be the ultimate looser has gripped the psyche. Some even have started blaming David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, for creating this situation. They feel that he should not have promised a referendum two years ago. Academics, intellectuals, workers, and even Asian migrants, feel that Britain must quit the EU. However, both the camps stick to their arguments citing the welfare of the country.
There is a lurking apprehension among academics and intellectuals that referendums never do good to the country. This is the reason why federal plebiscites are outlawed under the German Constitution. Even Margaret Thatcher, citing Clement Attlee, once referred to referendums as “a splendid weapon for demagogues and dictators”. Referendums tend to funnel a multitude of different protest votes into a single, sometimes revolutionary force that vilifies or ridicules the established institutions and decisions of state.
By holding a referendum Cameron has opened a Pandora ’s Box, making it even harder to see any good outcome, whatever the result. Britain is faced with the crisis of identity. Irrespective of the nature of the verdict, whether Remain wins or Brexit trounces, the political establishment and system will cease to be same as what it is today. Inevitably a major transformation and realignment of political forces will take place in Britain.
Cameron has sought to scare people by focusing on the reality of what life would be like outside the EU and the world’s largest trading market. As a warning to old people, who have shifted their loyalty to the Leave, he says, the so-called triple-lock that guarantees annual increases in state pensions, ring-fenced spending on the NHS, free TV licences and bus passes for pensioners, as well as defence spending would all be under threat, implying that they would be deprived of these benefits. Annual state pension increases are guaranteed by the triple lock, which ensures they rise in line with whichever is higher: earnings, inflation, or 2.5 percent. But if Brexit happens this commitment would be in doubt.
A desperate Cameron is also trying to rope in senior Labour leaders. Just ahead of the D-day leading Labour figures, including leader Jeremy Corbyn, London mayor Sadiq Kahn, former premier Gordon Brown, and former home secretary Alan Johnson would be given centre stage in the Remain campaign so that they could appeal directly to Labour followers. He called on them not to use the June 23 vote as a chance to punish him or the Tories but to support what is a huge coalition from the left and right that is backing continued EU membership.
The vote was “more important than a general election”, Cameron said. “They are voting for a generation, for a lifetime. It is about their children and grandchildren. What I would say to Labour voters is, look at the scale, look at the range behind Stronger In," he added. The referendum has split all political parties in the UK. In fact, a large number of Conservative leaders have turned hostile to Cameron and have even raised the issue of his resignation.
Prime Minister David Cameron, the person who gave the Tories their first Commons majority since 1992 faces the prospect of losing his office. "Brexit” voting Conservative MPS are waiting for Cameron’s action, with others admitting that both ways, he will have to vacate the office. Even Jeremy Corbyn has not been able to keep his united. It is also split.
What has been really interesting to watch is the referendum has divided the British society into the rich and poor block. Barely two days back, the British MP Priti Patel alleged: “Some in Westminster do not understand the pressure that millions of Britons face." The Remain campaigners often seem to speak from privilege; representing a political class which only knows the benefit of cheap labour. Leave supporters argue that continuing with the EU will destroy the UK’s economy.
Last week the office of the National Statistics revealed that the net migration figure rose to 333,000 in 2015. It is now predicted that the population will surge by over four million in the next decade. Almost 700,000 school children have a parent who is a citizen of another European country. The government must think beyond the referendum and explain how it is going to manage the contentious issue of migration.
The primary reason for the recent increase in support for Brexit is the fear of migrants. It is feared that the huge population of refugees which entered into the EU in the wake of the Syrian crisis may sneak into the UK if the Remain wins. Most of the EU countries would prefer to offload the refugee burden. Significantly the Asian migrants also do not intend to allow the EU migrants to enter the UK. They would endanger their financial interest.
Prominent Conservative leaders allege that the luxurious lifestyle of the Remain leaders has insulated them from the impact of the rising immigration on the daily lives of millions of Britons. The apprehension that migration will rise if Remain wins is not unfounded. It will be tough to keep the promise to cut migration because it would be impossible to control the border. The issue of an open border is gaining much importance. The British believe that the government must evolve a mechanism to control the border. The issue of raising an Army of EU has also created confusion.
Britain is now in a state of shock. Business confidence is plummeting. The authority of some of the nation’s most important institutions is taking a hammering like Parliament itself, whose constitutional right to make decisions on behalf of the nation has been undermined by the referendum. The situation has shaken the confidence of the Britons. For them, the identity and sovereignty of Britain is at stake.
Remains hold that a vote to leave the European Union would trigger an immediate recession, lower the GDP, affect UK output to the tune of more than 1 percent a year for the next decade; put millions of jobs at risk, plunge sterling, and erode real incomes.
The Bank of England shares the view that membership of the EU has been substantially beneficial to the UK economy.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)