Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
For the first time in the history of the European Union, a member country will hold a referendum to seek public opinion on whether it should remain part of the Union or quit. This is unprecedented because there was simply no provision available in the EU constitution. However, a few years ago when the Union crafted a new constitution for itself called the Lisbon Treaty, an opt-out clause was introduced for the first time. Article 10 of the Lisbon Treaty now allowed a member state to opt out of the European Union. Critics say, UK, since long, had been championing for the inclusion of this particular clause to be incorporated into the EU constitution for no other country except its own self. Obvious benefit being the freedom to leave the bloc whenever its people and political leadership were so inclined.
A referendum is being held on Thursday, 23 June in the UK to decide whether Britain should leave or remain in the EU. A referendum is basically a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part, normally giving a “Yes” or “No” answer to a question. Whichever side gets more than half of all the votes cast is considered to have won.
Prime Minister David Cameron had made an electoral promise to his voters in the 2015 general elections. That if he won the general elections he would hold a referendum. This was in response to growing calls from his own Conservative MPs and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who argued that Britain had not had a say since 1975, when it voted to stay in the EU in a referendum. The EU had changed a lot since then, gaining more control over their daily lives, they argued. Mr. Cameron said: “It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics.”
Going for this referendum was of course not an easy task for David Cameron. He had to face severe criticism from within the UK as well in the EU. The EU countries, especially the ones that formed this alliance in early 1951, saw David Cameron’s move a bid to scuttle their efforts in making the EU a worth-emulating economic alliance. Mr. Cameron’s predicament is also quite understandable as he has to do it in order to fulfill his electoral pledge. He seems to have realized that he would have been better off if he had not made this vow. Anyhow, the referendum now being fait accompli, the question before Cameron and the British government is to how the situation can be best handled.
While asking people to vote in large numbers in the upcoming referendum the British Prime Minister has also made it clear that in case Britain pulls out of the EU it has to face certain difficulties also. For example British GDP may considerably drop and the British people will likely bear the brunt of austerity for some years. The British universities especially will suffer a lot if the UK is out of the EU as these get most of their funding from the EU.
Those Brits who do not like the EU think the EU is a super state that has usurped rights of the member states. An argument effectively tackled by the pro EU people, who counter that by remaining inside the EU, Britain can easily and effectively reach out to the outer world. Labour Party seems to have intensified its campaign to convince people that they should say Yes in the referendum in contrast with the Conservatives who think that only a No vote can guarantee a bright future for Britain.
Ever since it’s joining of EU, Britain has never been able to fully integrate itself into the EU systems. Despite huge criticism from the member states, it is still out of the single currency “euro” and Schengen visa regime. Citing these as a basis, some member states argue, it won’t make any difference even if the UK pulls out for it had never been an integral part of Union.
The Americans, on the other hand seem quite disturbed ever since David Cameron announced to hold referendum because the US would never like the UK to leave EU for a variety of reasons. There is no denying the fact that UK support to the US on all critical occasions has always been forthcoming. The US invasion of Iraq could never have happened without the support of the UK, and through UK, some EU member states. No wonder UK is often dubbed as a US Trojan Horse within the EU.
The referendum call appears to have put the entire EU also on tenterhooks. In particular, countries that had been grilling the UK for not joining the single currency and the Schengen visa regime. Some even say David Cameron used the referendum gimmick in order to contain EU leaders who had been constantly criticizing it for staying away from the two most been important systems of the bloc.
All said and done, the EU would like to keep Britain inside at all costs as a No vote may jeopardize the whole EU project.