The Chronicles of Downing Street

The deal struck by David Cameron has fallen short of pouring oil on the troubled waters of Brexit. As Mayor of London Boris Johnson spoke up at the beginning of the week and started an aggressive pro-Brexit campaign, the terms of the EU referendum have been suddenly transformed. Indeed, as the Telegraph highlights, Brexit has become the primary matter of contention for the next Conservative leadership, with the Mayor of London opposed to Chancellor George Osborne, who conversely sees Brexit an “enormous economic gamble”. The political tensions of this week have also contributed to Sterling’s  lowest value since March 2009. David Cameron’s strategy in turn seems to follow the Scottish playbook, as he rumps up warnings about the cost of leaving the EU and as Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet secretary, has told that no access to official briefing papers on EU matters will be given to anti-EU ministers. In the meantime, although Labour’s campaign remains somewhat flat, Jeremy Corbyn has attacked the PM, pointing at the uselessness of Cameron’s EU negotiations for issues as fair trade and refugee crisis, but still reaffirming that “Labour is overwhelmingly for staying in”. Furthermore, worth noticing is the anti-Brexit position assumed by the Economist: the last issue of the authoritative newspaper underscores the potential costs for British economy, international security and domestic politics, as well as it effectively highlights the trade-off between control over immigration and access to the European single market.

Fear and Loathing in Brussels

How has European politics reacted to this British political turmoil? The threat of Brexit is perceived as increasingly tangible in Brussels, too. This is so evident that Politico reports “several EU initiatives” – in particular, concerning the EU budget and labour mobility – “have been put on ice in an effort to avoid stirring up controversy before the June 23 referendum in Britain”. One of the most pressing issues is the potential impact of Brexit on other countries that may be attracted on the path towards exit, as in the case of Czech Republic, according to Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka. Further expressions of concern at the international level this week have regarded a remarkable number of topics, ranging from European security, as expressed by the Europol chief Rob Wainwright, to global economy, as warned by G20 finance ministers. Also, European Council President Donald Tusk has specified that the EU-UK deal is “irreversible”, dismissing critics’ claims about the possibility for the European Court of Justice to undone it.

Voices from the Continent

Brexit perspectives seem to galvanize Eurosceptic movements in France. Florian Philippot, n° 2 of the National Front, has defined the EU referendum as a “democratic process that should be imitated” and has encouraged British people to vote in favour of the exit. Conversely, while Hollande has to cope with the reform of the Labour Code, the French Republicans start looking at Cameron as a model capable of protecting national interests without assuming radical anti-European positions. Italian politicians have been more cautious and also the Eurosceptics haven’t been too prone to capitalize on the evolutions of the British debate. Italian PM Matteo Renzi said that the EU-UK deal is “a good compromise” and hoped for a new EU-wide reflection on the future of Europe stimulated by the referendum. Worth mentioning is also Beppe Severgnini’s analysis on Corriere, which points out the reasons why Brexit would be a mistake from a diplomatic, legal and historical standpoint. In Spain, El Paìs has presented a thorough analysis of the (negative) effects of Brexit with particular regard to Spanish tourism, emigration and financial exposure. Finally, Podemos Leader Pablo Iglesias was the only one in the Spanish political context to severely reject the EU-UK deal, inviting the UK to exit “if they wish so”. After all, Iglesias’ pro-secessionist sympathies, starting from the ones concerning Catalonia, appear to have constituted a major reason for the sudden break in negotiations with the Socialists of Pedro Sanchez, who has sealed a new government pact with the centrist party of Ciudadanos.

Facts and Figures

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain:  37%

Leave: 38%

Wouldn’t Vote: 5%

Don’t Know: 20%

 Source: YouGov

Photo Credits CC: D Smith

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