The Chronicles of Downing Street

New elements have stepped into the British debate on the EU Referendum. A “steel crisis” has erupted after the announcement by Indian firm Tata Steel, which currently employs 15,000 people in the UK, of its plans to sell off its British assets, potentially causing huge job losses. Brexit campaigners have immediately targeted the community of the Welsh district of Port Talbot, where the Tata assets are located, as Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones said that no significant tax cuts to the steelworks could be offered because of EU rules. Another important matter of contention has regarded the British National Health Service (NHS): while former Conservative leader Michael Howard minimizes on the possibility of funding cuts for the NHS in case of Brexit, former health minister Lord Ara Darzi has pointed out the negative consequences on scientific research in the UK that leaving the EU would entail. Furthermore, the pro-Brexit group Vote Leave has published a string of shocking statistics, quantifying an average NHS loss of £700 million a year due to the treatment provided to EU citizens. In the meantime, David Cameron had also to deal with charges deriving from the involvement of his family in the Panama Papers affair, which might weaken his position before British voters. Yet, the potential effect of this political turmoil on the EU referendum remains uncertain, as one of the strongest attacks to the Prime Minister has come from Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose political moves in the weeks to come may still play a crucial role for the pro-EU campaign.

Fear and Loathing in Brussels

This week has also shown that Brexit is becoming increasingly intermingled with a number of different issues at the European level. This is what can be inferred from a leaked transcript of two IMF officials in charge of dealing with the Greek debt crisis, published on Saturday by Wikileaks. According to the transcript, it is necessary for the IMF to quickly reach an agreement with Germany on the Greek debt relief issue, because the UK referendum is likely to freeze EU decision-making in the next two months. Another event that has been dragged into the Brexit campaign is the Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which took place on Wednesday and which saw a victory of the No camp. UKIP leader Nigel Farage visited the Netherlands last week to support the No campaign and possibly capitalize on a negative result. Although this time the stakes are not as high as they were in 2005, when the Dutch voted against the European constitution, its influence in heightening the threat of Brexit creates nervousness both among Dutch government officials and in Brussels.

Voices from the Continent

In an op-ed on the Corriere della sera, Italian diplomat Antonio Armellini analysed the underlying reasons that might lead Brexit to win, and their inner contradictions, underscoring the challenges that the EU will have to face after the referendum in the UK, independently of its result. Along the same line, French economist Jean-Pierre Petit on Le Monde tries to assess the costs of Brexit for the UK, finding few “rational” arguments for Britain to leave the EU, but acknowledging the role that “emotional” factors will come to play in such a vote. Finally, Spanish politician and former NATO secretary general Javier Solana on El Paìs tackles two big questions: whether the EU has an actual interest in having the UK inside and whether it is still worth staying in the EU. The answers to these simple questions, whatever they may be, imply that the European political status quo is all but solid at the moment.

Facts and Figures

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

Remain 43%
Leave 41%
Undecided 13%

Source: Financial Times

Photo Credit CCGage Skidmore

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