June 23 is approaching and no one in Britain can say exactly what will be the outcome of the referendum on the permanence of the United Kingdom in the European Union. Surveys conducted by various institutions still give the lead to pro-Europeans, but the distance between the two fronts, which in September last year was of about ten percentage points, is growing smaller. The Financial Times keeps track of all major polls. According to the latest survey, “pro-Europeans” are supported by 46% of the population, the opposite front by 43%, while 10% are still undecided. Given these numbers, the last month of campaign will be crucial, as will the data on turnout at the polls.
Many leading politicians and institutions have declared their support to remaining in the EU
including David Cameron, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the representative of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon, a large part of academia and major enterprises. The International Monetary Fund and the OECD have published studies in which they tried to estimate the consequences of an exit on British economy, and although forecasts are hard to make at this stage, most economists predict that Britain would have more to lose than to gain from abandoning the EU. Barack Obama said that in his view Britain’s exit from the EU would weaken both fronts, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in an official visit to London a few days ago, said he expects a negative impact on foreign investment in English territory in case of a Brexit.
The field supporting Britain’s exit from the European Union is limping in the attempts to make a strong case.
Its advocates, such as Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP populist, right-wing Party, along with preeminent members of David Cameron’s Conservative Party, argue against Brussels’ money squandering, worsened by what they define a maze of stringent EU regulations governed with a Byzantine system. Moreover, the debate is increasingly structured as a choice between the economic benefits deriving from EU membership and the power to restrict Community immigration.
Immigration is a heated issue in Britain: EU immigrants are being accused of receiving more benefits from the English welfare state than they pay in taxes, an issue that sparked off controversial debates during the latest national elections. Last year Cameron unexpectedly managed to crush UKIP at the polls after having tempered anti-immigrant sentiments by promising a referendum on the EU in the event of a victory.
But with the passing of time it appears that he lost control of the situation. Many of his Party members consider the concessions he obtained in Brussels on the possibility of limiting EU migrants’ access to the English healthcare system insufficient. Furthermore, it becomes increasingly clear that some politicians, officially lined up in the “pro-European” field, are not truly convinced about their stand. In general
it’s hard to deny that British citizens don’t fully identify with Europe
and continue considering Europe as something distant. Conversely, Scottish citizens are largely in favour of the EU, and this factor could play a major role (as seen in the results of the recent elections for the renewal of the local parliaments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). In the meantime, many non-UK citizens living in Britain view the upcoming referendum of June 23 with concern, and with a certain degree of uneasiness, especially those in leading business roles who feel they strongly contribute to the national budget.