On 8 June Birkbeck Politics staff discussed the UK’s EU referendum, looking at what has happened so far and what may yet take place on 23 June.
The panel began by looking into why the UK was having a referendum, discussing the many hidden and not too hidden factors behind it. These stretched from Cameron’s gamble that a referendum would cure the short term threat of UKIP and unhappiness in the Conservative party to the long term distrust towards the European Union project in the UK, harking all the way back to Britain’s campaign of attempted sabotage of the project in the 1950s and reluctant joining in the 1970s.
Reflecting on the campaign so far, the panel spoke of how referenda are, by their nature, proxies for all sorts of other subjects. The EU referendum is actually about immigration, democracy and sovereignty. Despite their popular appeal, referenda can also be anti-democratic in focusing so narrowly on a single decision and pursuing a seemingly simple answer to complicated issues.
There was also concern at the low level of debate and failure, on both sides, to engage with facts or global realities, from international trade to the modern mass movement of people (see the Treasury Committee report that similarly complained of the ‘inconsistent, unqualified and, in some cases, misleading claims and counter-claims’ made by both sides).
The panel also reflected on how different views of the EU split different parts of England and the United Kingdom – creating what has been called a ‘Disunited Kingdom‘ of intentions and support. What would happen if Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain but England and Wales wished to leave? It could all get complicated and this paper speaks of some of the profound constitutional consequences. But do referenda ever solve an issue (think Scotland in 2014)? The panel thought it unlikely to be the last EU referendum the UK has.
In terms of the voting itself, the polls so far show a knife-edge result, resting on the margin of error. To find out what our panel think will happen on the 23 June (and why José Mourinho’s views could prove decisive) listen to the podcast below:
To find out more:
- For polling data and analyses see John Curtice’s What UK Thinks website and Matt Singh’s Number Cruncher Politics
- The betting odds are here (it looks roughly 77% remain vs. 25-28% Leave)
- The House of Commons Library impartial background research on the referendum, Brexit and issues it raises
- On the panel were: