Updated 21 JuneOn 23 June, the UK will vote on Brexit, the decision to leave or remain within the EU. The last stage of the campaign has been overshadowed by the tragic murder of British MP Jo Cox.
We are not used to MPs being assassinated. I had actually forgotten that the IRA murdered a number during the troubles.
The Brexit campaign has been quite messy. According to the BBC, there is a large pro-Remain majority in the House of Commons, 454 MPs to 147. The vote is being held because of Euro-sceptic views within the governing Conservative Party, views that appear unrepresentative of the Parliament itself.
The electorate is polarised, with the majority of the young supporting remain, while leave support climbs with age. UK nationalists support leave, while Scottish nationalists support remain.
Now that a leave majority seems distinctly possible, everybody is scrambling to work out what it might mean. Can the UK, as the leave case argues, continue to gain the economic benefits of a common market and EU association while removing the disadvantages? The issue then becomes the price to be paid. According to French Economy Minister Macron, "If the UK wants a treaty of commercial access to the European market, the British will have to contribute to the European budget like the Norwegians or the Swiss. If London doesn't want that, then the exit will have to be total,"
It is quite difficult unscrambling an egg. The UK is enmeshed with the EU at so many levels that a managed exit would be quite difficult. The volume of legislation that would need to be amended or replaced alone would be a considerable task.
Other countries and international bodies including the IMF have lined up to warn of the dangers. The IMF's most adverse Brexit scenario predicts 2019 growth 5.6% below what it would otherwise have been, and also a drop in GDP in 2017 of 0.8%. The leave case argues that the UK would gain an economic bounce from reduced EU regulation and that the UK Government would, if necessary, replace EU subsidies presently received by some parts of the nation.
As the campaign evolved, the leave campaign seemed to gather strength because it was selling positives, the advantages of leaving, while the remain campaign was selling negatives, the risks of leaving.
To a degree, the EU polarises left and right, although the Euro sceptics are mainly on the right. Within Europe, there are significant fears that a UK exit might unbalance the Union and encourage those who want to tear it down. There is also a degree of anger. If the UK were to vote to leave, it would be in everybody's interests that that exit be handled with minimum harm to both sides, but that might not happen.
Within the UK, the Cameron Government is likely to face significant problems regardless of the result. If the vote is yes, it will have to deal with a Parliament in which the substantial no majority appears to be already organising to make life difficult, to try to preserve as much as possible of the relationship with the EU. It is also likely to face a renewed push for Scottish independence, with less left to offer.
If the vote is no, the Prime Minister has to manage as best he can the divisions created in his own party by the campaign.
Whichever way the vote goes, 23 June will be an historically significant date.
Useful piece by Nick Miller and Mark Mulligan in the Canberra Times. Just noting for the moment.
Postscript 21 June 2016
Neil Whitfield has written a companion post to this one, Watching the UK’s big decision. In a comment, Bill Pilgrim wrote:
My understanding of this is that the objection by those against leaving the Euro is about Europe being a conduit for refugees entering the UK. And I am guessing that this was behind the recent assassination of Jo Cox. Is there not some way that the laws could be changed to allow Britain the right to determine who can migrate there without throwing out the whole EU union?This BBC piece while written from a particular direction shows some of the difficulties in a general sense when part of the angst is about general migration, when refugees become a touchstone issue to galvanise debate and where political parties responding make deliverable promises.
Another BBC piece, Chris Cook's The EU referendum may prove to be a generation game, looks at the generational and regional divides within the UK on the Brexit issue. There are some lessons here for Australia.