Is the UK heading for Brexit?

Will Brexit actually happen? And what consequences it may have for other European countries in which Euroscepticism is growing as well?

The recent polls conducted on the British public, clearly shows growing support for the Leave campaign as Great Britain heads in for the next week referendum about the continuing EU membership. The Brexit campaign has surged ahead in the polls with less than a week to go before the EU referendum. But will Brexit actually happen? And what consequences it may have for other European countries in which Euroscepticism is growing as well?

The European Union needs reforms

The European Union managed to evolve significantly from the times it began as a trading bloc which recently grew to some sort of a supranational political entity or at least this is the direction where it is heading. Many smaller countries seem to feel surpassed by the largest states within the Union, while traditional European powers like Great Britain, who stayed outside the Eurozone, omitted in some crucial decision making. That leads to frustration of many. Also the public. The European Union became for some a corrupted institution with unclear aim and blurry procedures. The need for a reform is obvious unless the EU does not want to share the history of other European blocs of states which after long periods of successful growth were collapsing within a couple of years.

The need for reform of the European Union necessarily entails an emphasis on a variety of interests, mutual contradictions or ideas. Any country can raise that issue but eventually there are just a few of them that can ‘pull the strings’.

In the case of Europe, it is a trio that pulls together the whole community, while creating it according to their needs. I am thinking here about Germany, France and Great Britain. Hegemons on the continent since the seventeenth century, who still maintain their position in the European hierarchy. There are no signs that this set up would change in the nearest future, therefore, it would be these three countries fighting for the upper hand about deciding the shape of the new Europe. And paradoxically Brexit can be a way of transforming the Europe once again in its turbulent history. Even though we still do not know whether these changes will occur in an evolutionary or revolutionary way but one thing is sure – none of these countries would easily give up their demands.

Cameron planned to carry out these changes in an evolutionary way when he started to talk about the need for ‘reform’ of the EU. In fact, it was, however, the change resulting more from the internal UK parties’ game. PM wanted to convince voters that he and the Conservative Party are able to reduce Immigration from the EU and retrieved to control their benefits through changes in EU regulations. A referendum on the UK membership in EU was a part of a plan in which British public would accept the changes offered by Cameron and show support to further EU membership. However as recent polls show, it seems that Prime Minister lost control over the situation. Additionally, more than half of Conservative party backed up the idea of removing UK from the unpopular in the UK Union. Therefore, the EU, independently of Cameron’s initial intentions may face a revolutionary ‘reforms’.

Is the UK heading for Brexit?

It seems that Leave reached the momentum of their campaign this week. This seemed to be confirmed by the last week polls (Lab ICM, YouGov, Ipsos MORI) which all showed from five to seven points advantage over Remain in EU supporters.

The Thursday Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard newspaper showed a lead of a Leave campaign with 53 per cent willing to vote for the Brexit, while only 47 to remain in the EU. Leave gained 10% in comparison with a previous poll and this tendency remains. Certainly the polls do not give us a definite answer about the final result of the next week referendum, however, they snapshot well the mood of the public and the effects of work of both camps.

The Remain campaign seems to be losing on the issues of immigration, which as surveys showed, is positioned in the first place after the economy when asking about the crucial issues deciding the attitudes towards the membership in EU. Also, so called, a Fear campaign about the economic turbulences the British markets will face and the George Osborne’s key claim that households will be £4,300 worse off after Brexit did not resonate very well with British people. Only 17% of the public believe these statement. In contrary, almost 47% agreed with the statement made by the Leave campaign that UK sends each week £350 mln to the EU. This comes despite the fact that almost all economists and business organizations support claims made by the treasury, while discrediting the Leave’s statements as simply untrue.

John Major, former Conservative Prime Minister, in the popular political talk show accused the camp of supporters of leaving the Union to conduct “vile” and “disingenuous campaign” that aims at deceiving the British.

A vote to take Britain out of the world’s biggest trade bloc would spook investors by undermining post-WW II attempts at European integration and placing a question mark over the future of the United Kingdom and its $2.9 trillion economy.

Such is the concern over Brexit that the U.S. Federal Reserve cited it as a reason it delayed an interest rate rise. Sterling has tumbled and British government bond yields have been pushed to record lows and billions of dollars have been wiped off global stocks.

Potential Brexit will result in the political and financial shockwaves that would be felt not only in the UK but also in other European countries. Except the economic concerns for which banks and global markets try to prepare since months, there may be much further going consequences which could result in a new wave of Eurosceptism across EU members.  EU President Donald Tusk goes so far as to say that it could spell the end of “western political civilization itself”.

Eurosceptism on the rise across European states

The British are not the only ones with doubts about the European Union. Given the ongoing immigration crisis combined with terroristic attacks on Paris and Brussels and still unsolved Greek problem the resentments towards Brussels across the continent were never so high. The EU’s image and stature have been on a roller coaster ride in recent years throughout Europe. In a number of nations, the portion of the public with a favourable view of the Brussels-based institution fell significantly after the financial crisis in 2009 which resulted in austerity measures directed towards some of the EU countries.

At the beginning of this month, the Pew Research Centre published the surveys revealing the swings of the support towards the EU across European states. The results exposed that the opposition towards further European integration has increased not only in traditionally Eurosceptic countries as Britain but also in usually more positive countries such as France or Germany, with an EU support dropping to 38% in France during one year.  In the 10 countries surveyed, only Greek voters, forced by the EU and international lenders to adopt a harsh austerity program, are more upset with Brussels than the French.

The Union is still supported among newer members, with 72% of Poles and 61% of Hungarians expressing a favourable view towards the Community, despite the recent conflicts between the European Commission and their governments.

The lowest support is, of course, maintained in Greece where only 27% is somewhat positive towards EU, yet only 5% of Greeks assessed its economic decisions as correct. Even among the bloc’s richer founding members, support barely reaches 50% and the trend is downward, with disapproving of the EU in Germany oscillating around 48%.

Across Europe, younger voters and supporters of left-wing parties are generally more supportive of European Union membership than are the elderly or right-wing populists.

But the electorates are united in their concern about how the Union has dealt with the refugee crisis, with large majorities expressing frustration across the board.

Finally, in the southern European countries, steeped in debt and with no prospect of rapid improvement of the situation, the disapprove of the EU economic management is huge with 65% of Spanish voters, 66% of the French, 68% of Italians and a whopping 92% of Greeks disagreeing with EU’s politics on that matter.

So if the UK will decide to leave the European Union this Thursday, these views might contribute to the further rise of the power of anti-EU parties, mainly in France, and that in turn to the possibility of more referendums on EU membership.  Therefore, one is tempted to say, that the British next Thursday will decide not only on the statute and the future of their own state but also the future of the European community as whole, which can feel perturbations of Brexit stronger than expected.

Urszula is the Editor for Europe in the Afterimage Review section of The Pavlovic Today. She holds a PhD and a Lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland and Napier University in Edinburgh. Her...

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