The Chronicles of Downing Street

The last days before the EU Referendum have been poisoned by the shocking murder of Labor MP Jo Cox by a man shouting “Britain first” that took place last Thursday. EU Referendum campaigns were suspended shortly after the news, and resumed at the end of the weekend with David Cameron and George Osborne warning about the economic risks of Brexit, which, they argued, would mostly affect the working people of the UK and would leave the country permanently poorer. UKIP Leader Nigel Farage has complained about both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor trying to capitalize on the murder of Jo Cox in stating that the Leave campaign had created a “bad atmosphere”. Vote Leave has also tried to gain new momentum for the last days and hours before the vote pointing out that Cameron’s pledge to reduce net migration to below 100,000 people must be abandoned in case of stay in the EU. In the meantime, an important Conservative politician has switched the support from the Leave campaign to Remain: former chairman Baroness Warsi said she realized she could no longer support Leave due to the “hate and xenophobia” showed by many of its supporters. These developments, signalled by the opinion polls, have determined a partial recovery of the Remain side in what seems to be a now more than ever neck-to-neck race. The increased likelihood for Britons to stay in the UK has marked the Pound Sterling’s biggest gain in eight years on Monday. This restoration of confidence in the financial markets has also been fostered by a number of declarations of notable figures in favour of Remain, ranging from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson to football player David Beckham.

Fear and Loathing in Brussels

Political voices at the supranational level have kept on pursuing their strategy of persuasion of British voters until the very last hours before the EU Referendum. On the one hand, European Council President Donald Tusk has made his most dramatic intervention in the debate, directly addressing the Britons and inviting them not to leave the EU, in order for the Union not to take “the first step towards disintegration”. Along the same line, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has expressed concerned with the “domino effect” that Brexit would have in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, the IMF has stepped once more into the debate with a report that was delayed by a day because of the killing of Jo Cox, saying that the cost to Britain of a jolt to the economy triggered by a Brexit would be greater than the amount it saves from not having to contribute to the EU. However, even in these last moments before the vote not all of the opinions are entirely negative: German and French Foreign Ministers Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Jean-Marc Ayrault released a joint statement affirming that, in case of Brexit, France and Germany are compelled to provide new momentum to European integration, in order for the EU to hold together. Finally, Nikolaj Nielsen on EUobserver notices that Brexit would take the UK out of the Dublin system, thus implying that EU states would not need to accept the return of any asylum seeker who somehow made it to the UK.

Voices from the Continent

Politicians and observers in the continent seem to agree on the necessity of further integration to counterbalance the impact the Brexit would have. French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has been extremely clear in pointing out that there will be “no financial passport” for the UK in case of exit, as well as it would need to contribute to the EU budget, as Switzerland and Norway do, if it wants to access the Single Market; this should be coupled with a relaunch of the European project, in order to reach a greater convergence within the Eurozone. Meanwhile, Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan claims to be confident in Britons’ choice, as well as in the measures to contrast the financial turmoil that would derive from Brexit, which he, nonetheless, expects to take place just in the short term. Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi seems to be less convinced of the final result of the vote, but he claims that the effect of Brexit on the EU would not be tragic, and would in fact foster a greater harmonization within it. Finally, Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister José Manuel Garcìa-Margallo wishes for a commercial agreement similar to the Canadian one in case of Brexit (a 99% tariff exemption), thus departing from the perspective proposed by Macron and other European politicians, who hope for a tougher European stance in the negotiations.

Facts and Figures

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

Remain 44%
Leave 44%
Undecided 11%

Source: Financial Times

CC Photo Credits: Edward Badley

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