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A Brit’s View: Who Wants a Referendum?

TM NOTE: AA Birch, who began posting at TM last week, will be writing periodically about British politics, as well as sports.


On hearing British Prime Minister David Cameron almost, but not totally, declare a kind of weird, small war on the European Union this week, I couldn’t help but thinking “here we go again”. The Conservatives are going to make those damned Europeans pay for being so European. We aren’t in this together. We are an island. We are different. We want our freedom. Refreshingly, the majority partner of the coalition thinks the whole country should decide on EU membership, so that’s nice. They should at least be given credit for that.

A referendum on EU membership appears far from certain at this point. I mean, UK-wide polls are a bit like coalition governments. They just don’t happen in modern British politics. Oh, well, they didn’t. With the Liberals “sharing” power, a poll on voting reform was insisted on as part of the coalition’s pact. The result, in 2011, saw 42 percent of people turning up to vote a resounding “no”. Evidently the subject matter just wasn’t sexy enough. Either that, or just pointless. So pointless in fact, that it completely passed me by. And I’m one of the minority of Britons who actually take an interest in domestic politics.

For those of you interested, the only other UK-wide referendum happened in 1975, when 67 percent of people voted for the country to stay in the European Economic Community. A pointer towards a future vote perhaps?

From my own perspective, I don’t feel I know enough about the detailed pros and cons of membership to be confident of voting one way or the other. So any vote I make would be based on the perceived impact on my favorite time of year. Vacation.

For example, I’ve just bought myself (not in the dodgy way) a shiny new British passport, complete with all the shiny EU markings that come with an EU member-state passport. Who, may I ask, is going to pay to replace my EU-brand passport with an exclusive UK-brand passport if Britain quits the Union? Not to mention the visa for entering Spain, for a week in the sun. Maybe all the money that would no longer go to the EU could be used to pay for new passports, visas (and driving licenses while they’re at it)? If that could be guaranteed then the Tories might just get my vote. Either that, or I’ll just stay in the US. Anything for an uncomplicated vacation, right?

Putting my own apathy towards a referendum aside, I am concerned about the reasons behind people voting “no”. From the moaning about the European Court Of Human Rights, to the bizarre worries about Romanian Gypsies running riot on the London Underground, people (or should that be certain areas of the British media) will stop at nothing in their criticism of the EU. It’s amazing what kind of anger can be whipped up by spreading rumors of “bananas with a certain degree of bend” being banned from supermarkets by “Brussels’ bureaucrats”. I don’t eat bananas, so I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty certain this isn’t true.

What appears to be true is the Conservatives insistence on the idea of having a referendum. That’s not the same as actually going through with one, and they’d have to win the next election, probably outright, for it to be possible. Stranger things have happened, but I imagine this weird war will end in a negotiated ceasefire.

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One Response to A Brit’s View: Who Wants a Referendum?

  1. Cujo359 January 25, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    The euro has turned out to be a daft idea, but that’s not what you’d be voting on, is it? What advantages do ordinary Europeans gain by being part of the EU? There’s already NATO for defense. Beyond being further enmeshed in bad banking schemes (of which the UK seems to have plenty already), there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of difference, does there?

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