Some Key Dates and History
24 October 2011: The motion calling for a referendum on EU membership is defeated in the Commons by 483 votes to 111. However, 81 Tory MPs support it and a further two actively abstain - making it by far the largest ever Conservative rebellion over Europe. In addition, 19 Labour MPs and one Liberal Democrat defy their party leadership in urging a referendum.
22 January 2013: In a long awaited speech Prime Minister David Cameron says that if the Conservatives win the next election they would seek to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and then give the British people the "simple choice" in 2017 between staying in the EU under those terms or leaving the EU. His speech comes against a background of polls suggesting UK Independence Party support at 10%.
8 May 2015: The Conservatives win a majority in the House of Commons in the general election and immediately pledge to make good on their election manifesto promise to hold a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU by the end of 2017
These key dates are interesting, as they show the increase of the “Eurosceptics” in the Conservative Party. The cynic (and probably I’m in that camp), thinks that at least part of the reason for an EU Referendum in the Conservative Party 2015 Manifesto was so that David Cameron could bring his rebels into line.
The whole of the Major parliament was dominated by open Tory feuding on Europe and this bickering was responsible for the government's defeat on the Maastricht Bill in 1993 as well as for John Redwood's 1995 leadership challenge. The simmering internal debates over the EU damaged John Major’s Premiership and the Conservative Party Election prospects in 1997. As the BBC noted: “With Tory splits on Europe on painful display throughout the campaign Major's party did much of Labour's work for it”.
The Norway Model
Norway rejected EU membership in its own 1994 referendum. But the country nonetheless has access to the so-called "single market" trade zone -- access for which it pays heavily both in money and by allowing free movement of people and capital.
Norway receives access to most of the bloc’s internal market through membership of the European Economic Area. That means goods, services and labour flow freely between Norway and the EU. In return, however, Norway has to adopt a large number of EU laws without having a formal say in how they are shaped. Norway also has to pay about the same amount of money into the EU budget on a per capita basis as the U.K., according to OpenEurope, a think tank that has declared itself neutral in the debate.
Indeed, the EU influences everything from the health warnings on Norwegian cigarette packs to the fact that Poles have become the biggest minority in the country!
"We really are, on some issues, more part of Europe, without the decision-making, than Britain is," Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.
Norway, the Prime Minister said, accepts decisions made by EU leaders and representatives and enshrines them in Norwegian law -- without having any official seat at the table.
"We try to lobby and put our weight into the decision-making process, but when the final decision is made, the Norwegian politicians and the Norwegian people have to accept most of those regulations. I don't think that a large country like Britain would like to have that type of decision-making being made without participating in the decision making."
Norway also has its own reasons for wanting Britain to vote “Remain” in its June 23 referendum on EU membership. Oslo has long relied on London’s free-market zeal to keep the EU’s interventionist instincts in check.
"I agree that there are a lot of things that I don't like about EU decisions. Sometimes they are made by people who have another political view than I have. Being a conservative, I would like to have a little bit less of these very typical bureaucratic regulations. "But you know, sometimes you make compromises. And if you want to move the world ahead, you cannot always get your own will."
A Look from Afar
Aljazeera, the respected foreign news reports on “EU referendum: Has UK politics ever been so ugly?” has this from their reporter:
“I sense a strong desire from people to give those in power a metaphorical bloody nose. And that, of course, is part of the problem with referendums. They ask a specific binary question, in this case Remain or Leave, but the voters may have all sorts of motivations beyond the question itself in making their choice.”
“One day last week I watched Farage as he rode past parliament in Westminster on top of an open double-decker bus emblazoned with a huge picture of his own face. He waved and grinned as passing motorists beeped their horns in support.”
“Behind him was a convoy of vans displaying posters.”Breaking Point" they said in big letters superimposed over a photograph of refugees trying to enter Europe, "the EU has failed us all". The posters shamelessly conflate the refugee crisis, which will surely carry on whatever Britain decides on June 23, and the debate about freedom to migrate within the EU.”
“And, to put it mildly, they don't appeal to voters' more generous or braver instincts.”
CNN reports on “Britain divided on eve of EU referendum”
“British politicians are making their crucial final pitches to a bitterly divided electorate Wednesday to persuade undecided voters of the merits of remaining in or leaving the European Union.”
“Britain's wavering voters are likely to be the deciders of this momentous vote. And with so much confusion generated throughout an acrimonious campaign -- and many of the fundamentals of the debate in dispute by opposing camps -- the outcome may come down to a question of gut instinct.”
"Remain" advocate Sadiq Khan, accusing his opponents of "scaremongering" by raising the spectre of Turkey joining the EU, potentially giving its citizens free movement within the union "Turkey is not set to join the EU," he said, holding up a pro-"Leave" leaflet that highlighted Turkey's proximity to war-torn Syria and Iraq. "You're telling lies and you're scaring people."
“Whatever the outcome of Thursday's vote, the consequences of this bruising campaign are likely to be felt for some time.”
In Australia, ABC News reports:
A divided Britain will soon vote in a referendum on the nation's European Union membership under a cloud of grief for murdered politician Jo Cox.
Polls are on a knife-edge, with final campaigning underway for the vote that could see the UK leave the EU after 43 years.
The deputy leader of the UK's Labour Party, Tom Watson, told Lateline the murder of his colleague and pro-EU politician Ms Cox is on everyone's minds, though he was unsure if it would affect the outcome.
"Whatever happens on the result we're going to end up a more divided nation as a result of this debate and we're going to have to do a lot of healing and understanding," he said.
EU Observer notes that China sees economic problems in its relation with Britain if it comes out of the EU:
“China remains concerned about the prospect of Britain finding itself outside the EU. In recent months, high-ranking Chinese officials have repeatedly expressed their government’s worries about the prospect of a British EU exit. Beijing’s diplomatic campaign constitutes an unusual departure from the Chinese foreign policy principle of not interfering with the domestic matters of other countries. It shows how much Chinese investors in Britain worry about access to the single market and how much Beijing fears losing the UK as an advocate in Brussels.”
“Over the past 15 years, the UK has become the prime destination for Chinese investments in Europe. A post-Brexit scenario that entails the loss of unrestricted access to the EU’s single market would align poorly with the business plans of many Chinese-owned companies operating in the UK.”
The Times of India comments on the vote today:
“LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron and his eurosceptic opponents made final pitches for wavering voters on Wednesday on the eve of a defining referendum on European Union membership with the outcome still too close to call. “
“The vote, which echoes the rise of populism elsewhere in Europe and the United States, will shape the continent's future. A victory for "out" could unleash turmoil on financial markets and foreign exchange bureaux reported a surge in demand for foreign currency from Britons wary sterling may fall.“