No nation does peaceful national political battles quite like the uk, consider getting out your silly walking shoes. The British are preparing for an additional full-scale national electoral convulsion, a referendum on whether or not to leave europe. Any vote is months away, however the debate has disintegrated into incoherent jabber among various intellectual and ideological factions. The polls, meanwhile, appear to show support for Brexit is now running up to 50% – and increasing.
Brexit 2016 is the reverse of Grexit 2015. Greece was an economic basket case that made a decision to cling to the euro as a lifeline, while Britain is definitely an economic stronghold aiming to escape from underneath the regulation-crazy EU basket case. Greece needed EU cash. Britain is fed up with shipping cash towards the EU.
One reason the U.K. is doing very well economically is the fact that, under that watchful Euro-skeptic, Margaret Thatcher, it never joined the continent’s currency union. However it did join the economic union, and has been forced ever since to struggle under the EU’s sclerotic bureaucracy and its raging fiscal imbalances.
Terence Corcoran: STAR WARS: A social revolution coming to a theatre near youTerence Corcoran: Great news on oil
Today, Euro-skepticism has new life, in part because EU immigration rules seem to force Britain to take flows of refugees, along with immigrant workers, at the expense of local employment and mounting welfare costs. A slick Brexit campaign underneath the “Vote Leave, Take Control” banner has seized the immigration crisis being an opportunity.
Prime Minister David Cameron, so that they can beat back the Brexit forces, has pressed European officials to create reforms towards the continent’s regulations. He’s set out some relatively minor revisions, including limits around the benefits migrants receive when employed in Britain.
The big test for Cameron’s plan to prevent Brexit will come in mid-February when his reforms will be reviewed and negotiated at a European summit. A referendum around the outcome of the summit could come later in the year, although the Brexit debate has already been cleaving through the business and political classes.
Canadians who survived the Quebec referenda from the last century will recognize the symptoms: hyperbolic claims, fear-mongering, ideological sniping, crass political opportunism. As one commentator put it, in the context of the global refugee and terrorist crises, “this is a toxic environment in which to conduct a major referendum on a sensitive question by which British sovereignty and national identity are at stake.”
The political battle line is messy. Cameron’s cabinet is split on the issue, and will be set free to campaign on sides. The xenophobic U.K. Independent Party is pushing for Brexit, claiming that a withdrawal in the EU may benefit the national economy. On the other hand, The nation’s Institute for Economic and Social Research, a think tank, claims that if the U.K. leaves Europe, the end result could be similar to the 2008 financial crisis, having a permanent loss of 6-8% of national income. London as a financial centre could be in danger. Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf said a vote for Brexit is “a leap into the abyss.”
But Britain is not Greece, a hobbled nation determined by Europe. It’s Britain, still a significant world economic and financial centre. Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s former Chancellor, is now head of Conservatives for Britain, a company that aims to usher in the Brexit vote. “In my opinion,” Lawson said some time ago, “Britain’s destiny is global- There exists a global perspective, we don’t just have a European perspective.”
In Lawson’s view, Britain has an chance to break from the shackles of Europe via a referendum that claims U.K. sovereignty and reaffirms its national freedom. I love the noise of that.