EU Referendum Will Not Make or Break Britain

Loud voices on both sides of Britain’s EU membership debate are overstating their case.

The United Kingdom on a globe
The United Kingdom on a globe (Ali Wade)

Fanatics on both sides of Britain’s EU membership debate are losing their heads.

Iain Duncan Smith, the pensions secretary who supports an exit from the bloc, recently accused the stay-in campaign of “bullying” voters with “spin, smears and threats.”

Liam Fox, a Euroskeptic former minister, said proponents of continued membership were “embarking on wilder and wilder scare stories.”

Philip Davies, a Conservative Party lawmaker, alleged that the government was telling “blatant lies” about the consequences of leaving.

“Leap in the dark”

In reality, those who want Britons to vote to stay in the European Union in June have mostly made reasonable arguments.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum last month after negotiating a semi-detached “special status” for Britain in the EU, has said the outers are advocating a “leap in the dark” and argued that it was incumbent on them to make clear what Britain’s alternatives are.

They have not.

That is why, whatever the polls say right now, a majority will probably stick with the devil they know and vote to remain in.


Yet some on the side of membership worry and apparently believe that hyperbolic predictions about the consequences of leaving will scare voters into making the right decision.

“Brexit will almost certainly lead to a breakup of the EU and then to war within Europe!” said Guy Hands, an investor, recently.

Such is the disunion in Cameron’s Conservative Party, where as many legislators have declared for membership as are in favor of leaving, that potentially contentious parliamentary votes have been pushed back. Decisions about the future of the BBC, building a third runway at Heathrow Airport and replacing existing human rights law with a British bill of rights will have to wait until after the summer.


Rodney Leach, the founder of Open Europe — a mildly Euroskeptic thinktank that is staying neutral in the referendum campaign — told The Spectator there is too much “adversarial claptrap” on both sides of the argument.

The potential gains being claimed from getting out “are much greater than we think they really are,” he said.

But the same is true of the other side: those who want to stay claim that the losses are whole magnitudes larger than we think they are.

Leach recognizes that leaving the European Union would be a nuisance for officials and businesses.

“So much of European law is passed into English and Scottish law,” he said. Disentangling the two could be a bureaucratic nightmare.

“I think most of the arrangements between companies, the whole interlinking of supply chains, would, to a very large extent survive,” Leach predicts, “but I suppose that if you had some years of difficult negotiations, companies who felt competitive with British suppliers in Europe would try to take advantage of that and no doubt they’d have some success.”

On the other hand, Britain is an important trading partner for many nations in Europe and would have leverage to negotiate a favorable arrangement on the outside. Leaving would not be the end of the world.

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