Neil Hall / REUTERS After a pro-EU public event in London, June 2016.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: Brexit and Beyond
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Leveraging Leave

The Pragmatic Case for Brexit

Thursday is referendum day in the United Kingdom, and politicians and pundits from all sides of the debate are trying to cram in their last words. Those who believe that the country should opt to remain in the EU are reiterating all their well-worn economic arguments; those in favor of leaving are once again focusing on sovereignty and border control. Both are portraying themselves as making the positive case in a season of political negativity.

Those foundations are the renegotiation of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU that British Prime Minister David Cameron undertook in Brussels earlier this year. He went to the bargaining table with five key demands. At the time, polls suggested that around two-thirds of British adults would vote to remain in the EU if Cameron won on those points (which included an attempted exemption from the commitment to an “ever-closer union”). Only 26 percent were willing to leave regardless.

British Prime Minister David Cameron at a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, February 2016.

British Prime Minister David Cameron at a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, February 2016.

It was thus vital for the prime minister and his supporters to insist that he came out of the fray with what he had said he would. But even that is much debated. And one nugget that the “Remain” camp is intent to overlook is not only the unambitious nature of the original renegotiation but also the fact that the resulting agreement has still not been ratified by the other member states. Even if the British public ticks “Remain” on Thursday, in other words, there is still no certainty that the United Kingdom’s European partners would hold up their end of the deal.

Perhaps it is inevitable that, in a campaign based on a black-and-white choice, both sides should play down any gray areas. After all, that is how Cameron planned it. By making the vote come down to either approving his new

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