Hopefully, the British public will decide on June 23rd by a small, but firm majority to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union. The deciding factor will be human uncertainty in the face of big changes, the results of which can not be accurately predicted by anyone. It concerns that part of the British electorate who have not yet clearly specified their stance and will decide at the last minute. That part of the electorate will often be determining when it comes to those decisions, where the polarisation of society is large and principled, but neither side has a clear overwhelming majority.
The situation, which the UK and the whole European Union have ended up in, is a clear example of what happens when the majority of political leaders has agreed with public opinion before elections, instead of trying to explain their principles in a rational way. That is exactly what has happened in the UK, where people mostly from Middle and Eastern Europe have arrived as part of the EU’s labour mobility programme. Those people have started to upset the locals more and more, and the subsequent political-populist mess in a pre-elections state caused all leading political powers to promise to hold a referendum on leaving the EU.
The United Kingdom is already very loosely tied to the EU. It is neither in the Schengen system nor in the eurozone. But still, it has not been able to avoid terrorism and economical problems. Recent agreements of the UK and the rest of the EU issued in the European Council give Prime Minister Cameron a reason to finally publicly support remaining in the EU in the referendum, but the influence of the EU-British agreement on the British public opinion is more likely quite limited. The more significant factors are going to be the USA’s clear support for the UK to remain in the EU and also a general uncertainty about the future. Because there cannot be any answers on how the UK is able to deal with security concerns, the possibilities of economic growth and many other important issues outside of the EU. In addition, if the majority support leaving the EU, it might lead to the collapse of the United Kingdom itself. Scotland will then hold a new independence referendum and in that part of the UK the majority supports remaining in the EU.
Brexit, or the exit referendum that grew uncontrollably out of the UK’s national politics, has become a big problem in the whole EU. There are other countries in the EU where in the current difficult times there are more people who oppose the EU, and the UK’s example seems to have an inspiring effect on them. The Netherlands, for example, will hold a referendum on the ratification of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement. In essence, the Netherlands referendum has nothing to do with that agreement, it is a more general demonstration showing dissatisfaction with the EU.
We in Estonia should keep our fingers crossed that the UK referendum does not put a start to a domino effect that leads to a weaker Europe. The British public will decide if they want their country to remain in the EU, but we hope that they will stay.