17 WEEKS TO 23RD JUNE - UK’S INDEPENDENCE DAY?
Some people have pointed out that the day after the EU Referendum vote on the 23rd June, when hopefully the result will be announced, is the day on which the blockbuster film sequel “Independence Day 2” is being launched. Let’s hope that is a prophetic coincidence!
Now that the referendum campaign has in effect started inevitably we have had the Remain camp talking up “Project Fear” to try and start frightening people to stay within the EU.
Their argument is that leaving the EU is a jump into the unknown by the country and that those in favour of Leave will be unable to say what exactly the deal will be. This is of course true and it is no use denying it, although arguments can be put forward to show that the risk is not really as serious as is being suggested.
Nevertheless since it is true that those in favour of Leave cannot be precise as to what the arrangements will be it is, in my view, necessary for those arguing for Leave to talk about the uncertainties of remaining within the EU
Whilst the BBC etc. have been keen to publicise the uncertainties of Leave what hasn’t been so well publicised is the uncertainties of Remain.
In particular do we want England broken up into the EU “Regions”? Do we want the UK to become twelve EU “Regions” within a Federal EU? Do we want an EU army? Do we want an EU police force? Do we want an EU judicial system? That is if the progress to “ever closer union” continues.
In the alternative there may be a messy breakdown as further problems with the Greek bailout becomes critical again and with the imminence of financial collapse in the Italian banks. Quite apart from those other parts of the EU which look more likely to want to leave, such as France if Marie Le Pen wins the Presidential election next year? What do you think?
I have also been thinking of what slogan would appeal to English nationalists that has people thinking about this kind of issue and I suggest:-
‘Stop the EU breaking up England. Vote to Leave
What do you think?
For English nationalists there is also the very interesting prospect that many of the likely scenarios in the EU Referendum will undermine the UK. Here is an extremely useful and interesting article by Professor Rose of Strathclyde University which sets this out and in which he has crunched the numbers for us:-
Will the EU referendum trigger the break-up of the United Kingdom?
If England drags Scotland out of the EU, there will be trouble. But if Scotland keeps England inside, it could be double.
On the night of the EU referendum, there will be three counts that matter. The first will show whether there is an overall British majority for staying in or leaving the EU. The second will show whether English voters are on the winning or the losing side. The third will show how likely it is that the United Kingdom will stay together.
That might sound drastic to some readers. But large differences in support for the EU among different nations of the UK mean that many potential results are bad for the Union. Unless England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all agree in their answers to the referendum question, factions in each will be able to reject the result as illegitimate.
England contributes five sixths of the British electorate. To produce a UK majority for leaving the EU, regardless of the preference of other Britons, would therefore require 61 percent of English voters to endorse Brexit.
Opinion polls, however, show English voters tend to be evenly divided, and often in favour of Brexit. Even if a British poll reported 51 per cent in favour of remaining in the EU, a majority of English respondents would be in favour of Brexit. This is because other UK nations are much more pro-European.
The National Centre for Social Research calculates that 55 per cent of Welsh, 64 per cent of Scots and 75 per cent of Ulster voters endorse the European Union on the basis of more than a dozen polls taken in the past year.
These numbers are also more stable than the equivalent figures in England.
So collectively, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish voters will contribute about 11 per cent of the pro-EU vote. English voters would only have to add another 40 per cent to the UK total to create an absolute majority keeping the UK in Europe. But that would mean most English voters had endorsed leaving the European Union – only to have their wishes overriden by the other UK nations.
On the other hand, if 53 per cent of English voters voted to leave the EU, this would be enough to take the UK out of Europe against the preference of a majority of Scots, Welsh and Ulster voters.
The only result which would keep the UK united would be a narrow English majority in favour of remaining in the EU. In that scenario, all four parts of the United Kingdom were of one mind. For this to be true we would expect to see a UK-wide majority of more than 53 per cent.
On the basis of current polling, that is unlikely. Of 30 major British polls I have analysed, only ten reported a pro-EU majority so large that most English respondents agreed with their fellow Britons. An additional 13 polls showed majorities of up to 53 percent in favour of remaining in the EU, but such a narrow lead implies that most English people would be held in Europe against their will. And seven of the 30 polls actually showed enough English opposition to the EU to overpower the other nations' leads.
A conflict between Britain's nations on future relations with the EU would be a huge headache to the Prime Minister. Part of the argument for Scottish independence in 2014 was that England would no longer be able to "impose" decisions on Scotland. An English-led withdrawal of the UK from the European Union could trigger another referendum in Scotland on the linked issues of leaving the UK and joining Europe. That would confront the Westminster government with simultaneously negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from Europe and Scotland’s withdrawal from the UK.
Yet the opposite outcome – a UK majority to remain in the EU, and an English majority to leave – would also be a nightmare for Downing Street. Conservative Eurosceptics could denounce the result as illegitimate, but it would be politically impossible for the Eurosceptics to win a referendum on the issue of England withdrawing from the United Kingdom.
Even if a narrow English majority went along with other Britons and voted to stay in the EU, there could still be an absolute majority of Conservatives voting to leave. Determined Eurosceptics could then adopt Jeremy Corbyn's doctrine that the party leader should represent his party's members. This argument could be used as a weapon to extract promises of further anti-EU actions from Cabinet ministers wanting to succeed David Cameron as the next Conservative prime minister.
Whatever the feelings of English voters on the emotive issue of Europe, there is no escaping the fact that the outcome of the forthcoming EU referendum will be decided by the total vote of the United Kingdom. That is the price England pays for being British.
Richard Rose is a professor of public policy at University of Strathclyde Glasgow and a commissioning fund awardee of The UK in a Changing Europe
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