After months of unending debate and constant campaigning the time has finally come for Britons to collectively make what has been repeatedly called “the biggest decision in a generation.” The argument from both sides has been impassioned, muddled and at times absurd, with the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, last week warning that a vote to leave could result in “the destruction of western political civilisation in its entirety”, while the ‘leave’ campaign continually stoke outlandish immigration fears.
A lot of people are acting out of passion, the sentiment out there depending on who you speak to. Almost everyone we have spoken to have openly said they want Britain to remain in the EU. They warn of dire consequences and see no need to leave. However on the eve of this historic occasion we decided to talk to one of the leading experts on European politics, author of the new book, The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide, Chris Bickerton, to find out what the real issues at stake are.
The Cambridge academic is upfront about his own views on the referendum and which camp he’s in. “I’ll be voting for Brexit . . . governments and the governed are bound together today in Europe by a relationship of antagonism, not one of representation.” However Bickerton does not blame the European Union for this fact. His agenda in voting to leave seems to be primarily to expose the fault of our own government. “Leaving the EU would not solve any of the problems of the British political system but it would reveal the way in which these problems are not to do with Brussels but to do with our own politics. And therefore they can be solved by us too.”
Perhaps Bickerton is right in his assertion that hiding behind a bigger political system could force our own government to improve. But there are big risks that need to be pointed out here. “The main worry is that if the UK leaves, then other countries will begin to want to do the same,” admits Bickerton. “And in places like Italy, Austria, Netherlands, even in France, no one can really say that they know for certain what the result of such a referendum would be.”
There are also real concerns that even in the event that Britain votes to leave, things may not play out so straightforwardly. Bickerton warns of a potential “attempt by the House of Commons to stop a majority vote for leaving the EU.” He says, “If the result is very close, MPs might try this as there is a strong majority for ‘Remain’ in the parliament. . . the House of Commons would be quite wrong to ignore the result of a referendum, even if legally speaking it has the power to do so.”
“There is also the problem that facts and opinion have been radically separated in this referendum,” he argues. This, Bickerton claims, is the main reason for the confusion and lack of coherent communication during the weeks leading up to tomorrow’s referendum. “You have independent experts on the one side who provide facts but hide their opinions, and there are politicians on the other side who provide pure opinions with very little facts. Democracy requires the combining of facts and opinion.”
This perhaps raises an even larger issue of the current instability of traditional politics in the West and the rise of far right and fear-based politics. Like the American presidential race this referendum debate has been overwhelmingly led by emotions rather than facts, a link that has not escaped Bickerton’s attention. “There are connections, certainly. Trump is a classically anti-political and anti-establishment figure. . . something similar has been happening in the UK. Politicians are aware of their own diminished authority and credibility and so they do not make their case in political terms.” He states that, “this struggle between populism and technocracy is what politics has become today. . .”
Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s vote, hopefully it will be one that was brought about by intelligence and rational thought rather than fear and mass hysteria.