The Chronicles of Downing Street

The last week before the EU Referendum is just about to start and the perspective on the final result is now more uncertain than ever. The last polls, well summarized by the Financial Times, show an increasing trend for Leave, as the percentage of undecided voters decreases. This has further pushed international investor to run for safety, sending the Pound Sterling and the British stocks to their lowest level of the month. In the meantime, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged Labour voters to vote for staying in, claiming that they are the ones that have the most to gain if the UK takes the lead in the EU to create jobs, cut energy bills and tackle tax havens. However, despite Labour’s cohesion against the campaign to leave the EU, Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson has added pressure on Jeremy Corbyn over migration issues, stating that EU immigration rules may have to be revisited. Furthermore, Scottish National Party first minister Nicola Surgeon has expressed deep concerns about the political effect that Brexit could have on Scotland, claiming that the latter might be left “at the mercy of the most right-wing tory government”. As the Brexit scenario gains credibility, Vote Leave has decided to set up a post-23 June roadmap, focused on ending free movement and curbing the power of EU courts. Finally, the last controversy of the week has hit the very heart of the Conservative Party: Finance Minister George Osborne has announced slash public spending and increase taxes in an emergency Budget to tackle a £30bn “black hole” if the UK votes to leave the European Union, thus triggering the anger of some 65 Tory MPs that have defined Chancellor’s measure a “punishment budget”.

Fear and Loathing in Brussels

Tensions do not stop mounting in Brussels as the EU Referendum gets closer. Thus, the levels of rhetorical drama of European politicians have arguably reached the highest point this week. European Council President Donald Tusk has claimed that Brexit could be the beginning of the end for the European Union and for Western political civilization. Tusk has also added that Brexit talks might be extremely long, taking up to seven years, as the new deal on the relations with the UK would have to be approved by all the 27 member states. Along the same line, Jonathan Hill, the European Commissioner for financial stability, has pointed out that Brexit is bad for both London and Brussels in terms of development of the single market in financial services, as well as of European economy and stability. Yet, not even in Brussels all the voices are unanimous. Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger is more optimistic, as he said that the European Union would “develop a new perspective” and “gather new dynamics” if the United Kingdom quits. In the meantime, in order to address the increasing lack of confidence of international investors, the ECB has pledged to backstop financial markets in tandem with the Bank of England should the UK leave the EU.

Voices from the Continent

A certain heterogeneity in the comments of observers and commentators has taken place in the continent. In France, Renaud Girard on Le Figaro notices that, although Brexit would represent a great political recession for Europe, as well as a huge diplomatic challenge, it might also be a much needed occasion to refound a European political system that is no longer capable to be appealing to European citizens. As well, according to Alain Duhamel on Libération, Brexit could foster an inevitable reform of European governance and policies concerning defense, migration and and the monetary union. In Italy, concerns about Brexit are particularly high as the stock market in Milan has performed the worst result of the week due to the uncertainty affecting international investors. Former Prime Minister and Commission President Romano Prodi observes that Europe is going backwards in the creation of a truly social spirit because of the strong advancement of populism; yet, he sees the apocalyptic post-Brexit scenarios depicted by many as “not likely”. Finally, on the eve of the elections that might see Podemos becoming the first Spanish political party, a diplomatic case has shaken Spain: David Cameron’s visit in Gibraltar to campaign against Brexit has raised discontent among a number of notable figures, including Mariano Rajoy, who said that Gibraltar remains Spanish whether Brexit takes place or not, even though he has not presented any official diplomatic complaint.

Facts and Figures

Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 44%
Leave 47%
Undecided 8%

Source: Financial Times

Photo Credits CC: European Parliament

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