Should It Stay or Should It Go?

The Brexistential Crisis

Britain's UKIP party leader Nigel Farage holds his passport during his keynote address at the party's spring conference, in Llandudno, Britain February 27, 2016. Phil Noble / Reuters

British Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to claim victory after the recent European Council meeting on the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union. After marathon talks that saw Cameron and his team sustain themselves on 23 bags of Haribo gummy sweets and a famished German Chancellor Angela Merkel forced to pop around the corner for some Belgian Frites with mayonnaise, the United Kingdom and its European partners finally reached an agreement. As Cameron put it, he had obtained a “special status” for his country and could now campaign with all his “heart and soul” for Britain to remain in the European Union, thus avoiding a Brexit (or British exit).

The reforms agreed to last week are mostly inconsequential, but the negotiations between the United Kingdom and its EU partners were never about substance. The summit was largely a charade organized for British domestic consumption. Against the odds, Cameron’s Conservative government swept to power last year pledging to negotiate “a new settlement for Britain in Europe” before holding a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union. Cameron hoped that on the basis of this new deal, most Conservative Members of Parliament would join him in supporting the “in” campaign. Ultimately, Cameron wants the British people to vote to keep his country in the Union. Thus the political theater surrounding the summit last week was designed to enable Cameron to claim that he had fought tooth-and-nail for British interests and won significant concessions from the European Union—even if the reforms do not amount to much in practice. With the renegotiations finally completed, the real battle has now begun in earnest. 


Cameron has set the date of the EU referendum: Thursday, June 23, 2016. The vote is less than four months away, and rival campaigns—one side for continued membership in the Union, the other favoring a Brexit—have hit the ground running. The looming referendum quickly exposed a sharp division

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