On May 3, at the Blavatnik School of Government, the public debate ‘Britain IN or OUT of Europe?’ saw a panel discussion on the possibility of Brexit. Duelling on diverse issues such as economics, political power, and international diplomacy, the panel transcended political allegiances and reflected the schism within British society over the prospect of Britain leaving the EU. The many interruptions and rebuttals underlined the conviction and commitment of the factions to their respective causes.
So far, the greatest factor inhibiting Brexit appears to be the economic ramifications that the mere prospect of leaving the common market would cause. Even those leading the charge of the ‘OUT’ faction (Nigel Farage chief amongst them) have been conceding that, in the short run at least, Britain would suffer dearly. But this wasn’t the case in Tuesday’s debate. Adopting the eyebrow-raising ‘We can’t really know what will happen, we might be fine’ approach, Roger Bootle, Daily Telegraph columnist and economist, attempted to reverse the tide of popular opinion on the matter.
These attitudes towards these implications don’t help the Brexiters’ case either. A ‘could’ simply isn’t enough when speculating on major developments on trade agreements, the City’s financial prominence, or the future of the pound. It can’t be denied that there are numerous valid reasons for Brexit, but to make an economic argument in favour of it appears a disingenuous and desperate attempt, hurting the movement rather than aiding the cause.
But a lot of this could be overlooked in favour of the higher ideals of self-determination of peoples or national sovereignty; in other words, we’ll eat the insipid main course if the pudding is good enough. And yet here lies a problem, highlighted by Lord Stephen Green of the pro-EU panel: Brexit won’t bring about a more cohesive United Kingdom. Scotland will be more likely to secede; and, in Lord Green’s words, “God help Northern Ireland if [Brexit] happens.”
Indeed, the political issues are by no means limited to Britain itself. How can Britain be an active participant in the war on terror? And a leader on the issue of climate change? On these issues, the Brexit panel failed to give any convincing answers, and the questions on the probable domino effect Brexit would have on other countries’ membership were largely ignored. In an increasingly interconnected and unified world, the implicit isolationism of the Brexit option could not be more anachronistic. One cannot but wonder at the fact that, despite all this, the pro-Brexit panel carried the day, ‘converting’ most spectators whilst providing the minority of the audience.
Discussions of the sort are vital for a positive outcome in the June 23 referendum, irrespective of the result. For it would be a pity to vote to leave the EU because you dislike the Romanian couple who just moved next door, or to hope Britain would remain because of the appeal of cheap holidays in the Spanish isles.