The Chronicles of Downing Street

The Tory split on the EU Referendum vote appears to be very difficult to ease, as the dramatic and sudden resignation of Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith generates a new severe turmoil within the British Conservative party. While Smith’s official reasons for quitting concern the cuts to disability benefits in the last budget presented by Chancellor George Osborne, the Telegraph and other newspapers point out that the vote of 23 June has been a major reason to resign, as Duncan Smith was one of the six members of the Cabinet who support Brexit: his resignation might thus be seen as the direct result of his opposition to his leader David Cameron. On the opposite side of British politics, after being silent for several weeks, former Labour leader Ed Milliband has demanded a greater engagement of Labour party and voters in the Remain campaign, in order to avoid a “race to the bottom” in workers’ right and protection. As already emerged in the past week, another important ally of the Remain campaign is the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which this week has warned on the negative economic effects of a UK exit from the EU on the British economy, quantified in a potential loss of 5 per cent of GDP and nearly 1 million jobs by 2020. Yet, Tuesday’s (22nd March) terrorist attacks in Brussels seem to weaken the position of the anti-Brexit camp. Indeed, many advocates of the Leave campaign, and in particular the UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage, have tried to capitalize on Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, blaming the EU for what happened and pointing at the freedom of movement as a “security threat”, notwithstanding that Britain is not part of the Schengen border-free area. David Cameron has not remained silent on the issue, condemning the association of Brussels attacks with immigration and pointing at the value of European agencies like Europol and Eurojust precisely to prevent terrorist atrocities in Britain. Cameron has been also backed by Home Secretary Theresa May who has called for greater security coordination within the EU and support for “vulnerable” countries.

Fear and Loathing in Brussels

The Brussels attacks have had a shocking impact on European politics and public opinion, which may significantly reflect on the debates on the EU referendum, as these unfortunate events seem to reinforce Eurosceptic politicians from across Europe. Commenting on Tuesday’s facts, UKIP MEP Mike Hookem has stressed the necessity of “the immediate suspension of the Schengen agreement, and the re-establishment of border controls”. Hookem’s position has thus been followed by a plethora of requests of greater closure and immigration control arising from Eurosceptic groups of all the Member States, starting from Marine Le Pen in France, who has called for the closure of borders between France and Belgium. These requests have also spread beyond Europe, as the declarations released by US Republican Party’s presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz show. However, as underscored by Politico, the threat posed by terrorism also increases the scope to improve the EU’s security collectively, from better sharing of information to more robust help for countries seen as falling short on counterterrorism such as Belgium: if these answers are quick and seemingly effective, they might also lead British voters to consider the permanence in the EU as a benefit, rather than a cost from a security standpoint. Indeed, on the one hand, Jean-Claude Juncker has pointed out that these events underscore the need for a “security union”, entailing greater cooperation to fight terrorism. On the other hand, EU anti-terror chief Gilles de Kerchove has been very clear in saying that EU states should “invest more in Europol”, and make a better use of Europol and Schengen databases, referring to the Schengen Information System (SIS).

Photo Credits: Cabinet Office

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