Leave or Remain in EU: Britain’s divide deepens as voting day nears

Leave or Remain in EU: Britain’s divide deepens as voting day nears

By ANTONIA FILMER | LONDON | 11 June, 2016
British Prime Minister David Cameron, his wife Samantha and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne attend a National Service of Thanksgiving to mark Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, on Friday. REUTERS
This week three separate polls had ‘Leave’ 3-5 points ahead of ‘Remain’.

As the debate whether to stay in or get out of the European Union gets more feverish in Britain, the “Remain” and “Leave” teams accuse each other of telling untruths. This week three separate polls had “Leave” 3-5 points ahead of “Remain”. At the time of writing, they are neck and neck. The government extended the online electoral registration period for 24 hours hoping to attract young voters, who are more likely to vote “Remain”, having grown up in the EU.

The main issues are the EU’s usurpation of sovereignty, EU trade (how to keep it), immigration, which rose to 333,000 in 2015, not the reduced 100,000 the government promised, with benefits and jobs for migrants reducing opportunities for the British, the net contribution to the EU of £10billion per year, the worsening of the Eurozone economic and institutional crisis and the EU Commission accelerating the process for Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey to join the EU.

It is worth noting that when British Prime Minister David Cameron offered the referendum in 2013 it was before the human flood invited by Angela Merkel.

Some members of the Commonwealth felt dumped when Britain joined the EU. Hugo Swire, MP and Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) gave a speech at Chatham House, refuting this and claiming the benefits for a partnership with both. This week, Quilliam Foundation released an anon-partisan report, “The EU and Terrorism: Is Britain Safer In or Out?” by Maajid Nawaz and Julia Ebner with a foreword from Rob Wainwright, director of Europol. It supported UK’s role in shaping EU’s internal security architecture and an integrated approach to combat serious organised crime and terrorism. Many experts from both sides contributed to the report.

It looks like television will play a deciding role. Sky News held two debates on the matter. Prime Minister David Cameron, who is for the Stronger-In campaign, turned the debate into a single market issue, convinced that UK would be worse off out of it. One student accused the Prime Minister of “waffling”. The consensus was that Cameron’s performance was unconvincing. The PM’s arguments came across as favouring big interests over the interests of the ordinary people. ITV presented an hour of audience questions. David Cameron had all the answers at his fingertips and smashed UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s feeble racist arguments. Cameron ended by referring to the Leavers as “Little Englanders”, which many felt patronised and offended 70% of Conservative voters.

Neither Cameron nor Chancellor George Osborne will face Boris Johnson, the leader of “Leave”. In a shift, from ridiculing UK’s immigration policy, towards defending the economy, Gove and Johnson have challenged the PM, in a five-page open letter, to clarify promises that UK will not be paying for future Eurozone bailouts. On Wednesday Osborne faced a grilling from Andrew Neil, UK’s no1 political broadcaster, about the “Remain’s” “scaremongering” tactics, known as the politics of fear. Osborne replied, “Frankly there is a lot to be scared about if we leave the European Union and risk our economy.” There is an undercurrent of antipathy towards Osborne, who features in Conservative Home’s “Net Satisfaction Cabinet Ratings” as -41.3 (second from the bottom). At the time of going to press Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and a cross-party team of women politicians are set to debate Johnson on ITV. On 20 June, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn from the Stronger-In camp will answer live questions from an audience of young voters on Sky News.

To rally the Remainers, Cameron shared a cross-party platform with Labour’s Harriet Harman, Lib-Dem’s Tim Farron and the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett. The PM has the support of the four largest trade unions, whose leaders have called for six million members to vote Remain. The PM also has the backing of world leaders. Two former British Prime Ministers set their differences aside to campaign for Britain remaining in the EU. John Major has called the Leave campaign “deceitful, misleading”, saying it would lead to Scottish independence. Tony Blair went further saying it could lead to Northern Ireland’s independence. Reports from the House of Commons say Whips are pressurising Leave backbencher MPs to swop to Remain, suggesting they should not be associated with Farage’s idea of Britain. Tory MP and Health Select Committee chairman Sarah Wollaston has already swapped sides to join Remain, claiming that Leave’s National Health Service statements were untrue.

The Conservative party is divided over EU membership. Andrew Bridgen, MP, has declared Cameron’s position as “untenable”, whatever the results of the referendum. He believes that the disunity in the party is so deep that the PM will face a leadership challenge. “Leave” has Conservative stalwarts Chris Grayling, John Whittingdale, Theresa Villiers, Iain Duncan Smith and Crispin Blunt. The poster girl for Leave is Priti Patel, who is vociferously campaigning for Brexit. Other ministerial eurosceptics such as Home Secretary Theresa May, Secretary of State FCO Philip Hammond and Secretary of State for Business Sajid Javid are keeping silent. Whatever the result on 23 June, it will trigger a political crisis.

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