To break, or not to break? That is the question #1

Politics is ultimately a numbers game, and the figures just don’t add up [1]

On 23 June, British voters will go to the polls to solve a very large maths problem.  The United Kingdom is currently in a battle over its identity as a European nation, and both sides of the debate are clamouring for attention and support.  However, no matter how convincing the arguments; no matter how witty the speeches; no matter which celebrities sign up to which campaign; the ‘Brexit’ battle will, ultimately, be won on numbers.

When faced with the question on the ballot paper, “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” voters will respond by asking their own question:  do the figures add up?

KEY NUMERICAL FIGURES 

ipsos on brexit.jpg

KEY POLITICAL FIGURES

The Remain Campaign

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is the de facto leader of the ‘remain’ campaign.  The government’s official recommendation is that the UK remains in the EU, and Cameron won some fairly significant concessions from the EU when he recently agreed a new deal.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Cameron’s unofficial second in command, George Osborne, backs the Prime Minister to the hilt, saying that the renegotiation has given the UK the “best of both worlds”.

Other key government ministers include Theresa May (Home Secretary), Philip Hammond (Foreign Secretary), Michael Fallon (Defence Secretary), Jeremy Hunt (Health Secretary), Justine Greening (Development Secretary), and James Brokenshire (Immigration Minister).

On the other side of the despatch box in the House of Commons sits Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour party.  However, on the issue of Britain’s continued EU membership, Corbyn is standing with Cameron to campaign for a vote to remain. There had been some doubt as to whether or not Corbyn would back Cameron’s position on this, as he has indicated that his personal position tended towards Euroscepticism.  Nevertheless, he has taken a formal pro-EU stance which reflects the general position of his party, despite criticising what he views as Cameron’s “irrelevant” EU deal.

Tim Farron, leader of Britain’s traditional third party, the Liberal Democrats (now in fourth place with a miserly eight seats in the current Parliament), is passionately pro-EU.  Indeed, the Liberal Democrats are the only party in British politics to have been consistently Europhilic.

Previous party leaders are backing the campaign to remain, with former Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, and Labour’s Neil Kinnock joining forces with David Cameron to begin a telephone campaign.  All three former living Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and John Major are also advocating for Britain to remain in the EU.

The Leave Campaign

The main, albeit unofficial, face of the campaign for Brexit is Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).  UKIP’s raison d’être has always been the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, hence its name, and the impending referendum has allowed the party to come into its own.  However, Euroscepticism is not limited to UKIP but has long been the bug bear of the Conservative party.  Despite the Prime Minister campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU, it has been suggested that he promised a referendum on EU membership as a concession to the Eurosceptic wing of his party.  Indeed, some of the most high-profile members of the ‘leave’ campaign are Conservative party MPs.

Boris Johnson, Conservative MP and former Mayor of London bolstered the campaign when he informed Cameron by text of his intention to campaign for Brexit.  Despite assertions that he believes that leaving the EU would be best for Britain, there have been claims that Johnson is using the EU referendum as a way of manoeuvring into the top spot of Prime Minister.

Other notable Conservative MPs, some of whom are cabinet ministers, who have joined the campaign to leave the EU include Michael Gove (Justice Secretary), Iain Duncan Smith (Work and Pensions Secretary), Chris Grayling (Leader of the House of Commons), John Whittingdale (Culture Secretary), and Theresa Villiers (Northern Ireland Secretary).

There are few MPs of other parties backing the ‘leave’ campaign, but there are some.  There are a total of eight Labour MPs, and all four Democratic Unionist Party MPs backing the campaign, and George Galloway, leader of the small Respect Party party, is also campaigning for Brexit.

The EU referendum has seen unlikely partnerships emerging, as politicians join together to campaign for their respective stance on Europe.  The coalition of Farage of UKIP and Galloway of Respect has been one such unusual collaboration.  Galloway has described it as allies in a common cause, “like Churchill and Stalin”.

UPDATE: Boris Johnson, former London mayor, a few hours after the publication of this article declared that European history had been dominated by doomed attempts to unify the continent under a single government to recreate the golden age of the Romans. In his interview to the Sunday Telegraph he said that Napoleon, Hitler, and the EU all tried out to unify the continent under a superstate and it always ended tragically. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, accused Johnson of ‘political amnesia‘.

[To be continued…]

[1] John Grogan, American journalist

Laura MacKenzie (UniLeicester) (1)

Laura MacKenzie

This article was written by Laura MacKenzie, a Graduate Researcher at the University of Leicester.  Her research interests include populism, the radical right, Euroscepticism, and the European Parliament. She is currently conducting a research project on the effects of populism on rapporteurship allocation in the European Parliament.

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