Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Latest post for E!Sharp: Can an in-out referendum solve the European question in British politics?

The prospect of an in-out referendum is one we all know will figure in the UK’s forthcoming general election. The average British voter might care little for the nuances of EU membership, or even say the issue ranks high in their election priorities. But it weaves itself into so many issues that we can expect it to be up there in the headlines, especially with the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP all committed – in varying ways – to holding an in-out referendum.
It is hoped that a referendum can allow the British people to once and for all solve the question of Britain’s commitment to Europe, providing a cathartic, decisive decision whether it be to stay or go. Given such expectations we need to take a step back and realise that all sides – both Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans – risk expecting too much of a referendum.
The European question is a multifaceted one driven primarily by Britain’s domestic politics. It was for this reason that when I recently wrote an article on this topic for International Affairs, the Chatham House journal, I gave it the title ‘To be or not to be in Europe: is that the question?’ In short: no. Britain’s European question is connected to a range of issues – constitutional change, changing identities, political economy, fragmenting party politics, responses to globalisation and the changing geopolitics of Europe – not simply whether Britain wants to be formally in or out of the EU.
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