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Why did David Cameron call the 2016 UK Referendum on EU Membership?

 

Why did David Cameron call the 2016 UK Referendum on EU Membership?

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Introduction

The exit of Britain from the European Union brought about conflicting views among economists, politicians, and the larger international community. Britain left the European Union because of a referendum that was passed in 23 June 2016. The process of voting was seen positively as an important democratic exercise in which the people made decisions. The European Union is an international political and economic organization that has was established in the late 1940s. The organization had certain social, economic, and political agendas, which would promote unity within the 29 member states in Europe (with the current exclusion of the United Kingdom). Today, the European Union is considered one of the most prosperous and largest trading regions, which has affected the lives of millions of people therein. Throughout the decades, members of the European Union have experienced tremendous political and economic growth. However, in June 2016, the former Prime Minister David Cameron brought forth a referendum for people to decide whether to remain within the European Union or leave. Surprisingly, a majority of the people who voted were against the United Kingdom remaining within the organization. This was a majority vote of 52 percent. The question then remains is why the Prime Minister decided to hold a referendum, which he believed, would greatly affect the fate of the nation in terms of its international political and economic relationships with its neighboring countries.

The European Union

The European Union is a social, economic, and political organization with 28 member states. With an estimated population of over 510 from citizens of some of the wealthiest countries, the European Union has become one of the most successful economic blocs in the world. Member states have been able to give up some of their sovereignty in order to benefit from a regional rather than national level. The organization has been able to bring about peace and economic prosperity within the countries it governs. Additionally, the organization has been able to help other nation states, which face both political and economic challenges. It is also deeply involved with energy, development, poverty, disaster, conflict, and environmental issues on a global scale (Grice, 2016).

Within the member states, the European Union has allowed free movement of goods and services as well as individuals and companies involved in the trading (Castle, 2016). However, throughout the years, the process of movement as well as trading has not worked beneficially to the United Kingdom. Critics of the European Union say that aside from the free movement of people, which diminishes the importance of nationality, The European Union as a political and economic power undermines that of the United Kingdom. Additionally, selling of goods and services to other members of the trading bloc does not yield as much profit as would be achieved were the UK selling to other nations such as China.

For instance, The British make more money in the Common Agricultural Policy than it receives. Therefore, leaving the European Union would result in more revenue for farmers when their products are sold outside the EU (Herdson, 2016). Additionally, there exists a cost of membership, which many in the Labor Party believe would be put to better use now that Britain is no longer a member of the European Union. The UK believes that there exist other pressing priorities within their nation other than contributing large amounts to the EU membership (Iyengar, 2016). Calling of the referendum largely depends on how the UK feels it profits from it. As such, other than the evident benefits, there exists certain areas of negotiation, such as the issue of single currency and the Schengen Treaty that has lessened controls of member state borders.

The Referendum

The Referendum focused on the United Kingdom membership with the European Union. It was held in 23 June 2016 in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and voters were to decide whether to remain a member of the European Union or not. In the referendum, there were 46,578,037 registered voters, 72 percent of which voted in the referendum. More than 17 million people voted to leave the European Union as the United Kingdom as compared to 16 million people who voted to stay (The Electoral Commission, 2016). Outcomes of the vote led to the phenomenon popularly termed as “Brexit” which stands for Britain and Exit, to refer to the exiting the European Union. There existed several consequences, which would lead to an inability to hold elections within the European parliament. Britain’s exit from the United Kingdom is also likely to lead to other effects pertaining to immigration, trade, manufacturing, travel, foreign investment, public sector, and financial services, among several other effects.

Reasons for Calling the Referendum

There is a wide range of speculations centering on the reasons behind former Prime Minister David Cameron calling on the European Union Referendum. According to Grice (2016), David Cameron wished for the country to become more conscious about the social and political divide that had engulfed the country. The author claims that Cameron’s actions were geared towards winning  “a decisive majority for Remain to settle the EU issue and give himself the space to implement his legacy agenda of One Nation reforms to improve people’s life chances” (par 1). However, the author also maintains that the results of the referendum showed an unexpected turn that revealed how divided the country was.

The sentiments were also echoed by Grice (2016), who stated that the way in which people voted indicated a severe cultural division which many people experienced albeit not being able to actively protest against it prior to the referendum. According to Grice, the referendum was a form of protest against the social changes that took place within the country. Membership within the European Union indicated that more foreigners were less restricted in terms of travel and business. It also meant that other social concepts such as multiculturalism, racial and ethnic diversity would equally develop. However, the truth was that not many people were comfortable with the rapidly changing social structures (Moore, 2016; Lord, 2016).

Another speculated reason pertains to the economic structure of Britain in relation to the rest of the European Union. Based on the reports provided by the Prime Minister, Britain would remain in the European Union so long as it was in their interest. However, in the event that their const benefit analysis indicated losses rather than benefits, it would only be economically sound to leave the bloc. British membership runs on the European Union as well as other European states. In the mid 1960s up to the late 1990s, there was a shared single concept and ideal of a common and single market for all member states. At this point, the UK had fallen behind its competitors, which were in the neighboring states and beyond. At the end of this period, the United Kingdom began to view its European membership as more of a choice that they would reconsider. The author notes “Choices can be made and unmade. As long as ‘Europe’ remains a choice rather than a fixed part of the political landscape, it remains open to ongoing contestation” (Copsey & Haughton, 2014, pg. 82). As such, Britain continued to evaluate their membership in the European Union in terms of cues and cost benefit analysis.

The authors also note that a reason for calling a referendum is to manage the structure and issues within the political parties (Copsey & Haughton, 2014, pg. 84). The Prime minister needed to evaluate and balance the interests of both the liberal and democrats while at the same time achieving high economic income with European membership. This is especially so when the next parliament is almost halfway through its term rather than at the end. As such, British party leaders have used the referendum as a way to manage disputes. The constraints, which the former Prime Minister faced, were further compounded by the limitations of a coalition government, where interests often varied.

He was therefore tasked with the responsibility of striking a balance between those who supported membership within the European Union, and those who did not. In as much as he did not support the exit from the European Union, he believed that this decision was to be made by British nationals (The Economist, 2016). Thus, he was able to call a referendum for this consent. However, the economists maintain that this has been a risky and controversial approach to political and economic management. According to the authors, the approach that Cameron uses to call on the referendum is built on the rather questionable concept that he will provide enough reason to convince the remaining 27 member states within the European Council to make sufficient concessions (Hunt and Wheeler, 2016). As such, this will provide him with an opportunity to renegotiate the overall terms of membership to those that favor Britain more. However, the real situation was that the current European Union arrangement did not give much room for amendments among member states. As such, the move towards calling a referendum was considered a gamble.

Another reason that was speculated to be part of the calling of the referendum was for economic benefit. Currently, the United Kingdom is the seventh largest economy in the world. Many conservatives believe that its membership to the European Union is an economic hindrance, which allows a sort of ‘leveling’ for member states rather than for economic benefit of all of them from an individual basis. Therefore, conservatives see its partnership with EU as a limitation, rather than as a tool that would assist them to realize their economic potential. The authors believe that “this group of Conservative politicians envision a bright future

For an economically liberal UK outside of the EU, often citing (bizarrely) the success of

Tiny city-states such as Singapore or Hong Kong as models for emulation” (Copsey & Haughton, 2014, pg. 85). This would allow the Britons to become more independent in making their financial plans. They would be able to explore other parts of the world in terms of trade and other socio-economic and political opportunities.

Britain has had a long-standing ideal of free global trade. However, an estimated 44 percent of all their exports go to member states in the European Union. This leaves a small proportion of the remaining goods and services are sold to the rest of the countries. According to Grice, a number of Britons have felt rather frustrated in their current economic and social situations, which they attribute to being tied to the European Union (Grice, 2016). This is especially so in the majority of people in the elderly, poorer, and less well educated demographic. This, they believe, is one of the issues existing within the United Kingdom, which they believe an exit will address. Additionally, the European Union has been believed by most people to be an economic slowdown, where progress takes much longer to achieve than is required by the people from Britain. Many people within the lower economic demographic feel especially affected, as most are unable to cope with the increasing economic hardships.

Another reason for the calling on the referendum was focused on issues of migration. Many of the conservatives and lower economic demographics felt that the Brexit would limit the overall flow of immigrants into the country (Butler et al, 2016). With membership in the European Union, many of the nationals in the member states will have fewer restrictions when travelling to and from Britain as well as other countries. Currently, thousands of European nationals reside in the United Kingdom for the purposes of economic trade. This is also the case for Britain nationals, who live and work in other European Union member states. However, many feel that through immigration the essence of nationalism is slowly fading away, and being replaced with multiculturalism. Many people, especially those in the lower economic bracket, do not feel comfortable with the situation. Grice maintains that there is a possibility of the existence of an “unwillingness to embrace economic opportunities perhaps due to certain mental shackles that leave them worse off” (Par 8).

Cameron’s move to call a referendum was also based on a sense of overconfidence. This  led him to believe that the referendum pledge would lead to many if not all of the European Union member states to renegotiate a package, which would be more politically and economically favorable.  This is aside from the political influence that the Prime Minister possesses in Europe, many countries would benefit through the continued membership of the United Kingdom. Many countries depended in one way or another on trade between them and the United Kingdom. It was considered one of the most important nation states to trade and engage with other countries in the bloc. Therefore, the backing of Britain in the referendum would place them in a better position to achieve more desirable outcomes from the European Union.

Another reason why Cameron called on the referendum was to enable the people have a chance to vote for or against it. The last time a similar referendum was held was more than 40 years ago. During this time, it was known as the European Community, and the United Kingdom had not been a signatory of the Treaty of Rome. The referendum resulted in an overwhelming vote in favor of staying (67 percent). Additionally, the labor party has previously attempted to withdraw from the European Union through democratic elections. After David Cameron was reelected for the second term, he introduced the European Referendum Act of 2015. This new policy made provisions for a referendum to be held in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar, on whether these countries and regions should remain in the European Union (Leyland, 2016). Within the act, David Cameron as the prime minister would provide the date in which the referendum would be held.

Conclusion

Britain leaving the European Union brought about conflicting views among economists, politicians, and the larger international community. Exclusion from the European Union Resulted from a referendum that was passed in 23 June 2016. The European Union is a social, economic, and political organization with 28 member states. With an estimated population of over 510 million people from citizens of some of the wealthiest countries, the European Union has become one of the most successful economic blocs in the world. The former Prime Minister wished for the country to become more conscious about the social and political divide that had engulfed the country. He also needed to evaluate and balance the interests of both the liberal and democrats while at the same time achieving high economic income with European membership. Many conservatives and poor people felt that the Brexit would limit the overall flow of immigrants into the country. A sense of confidence in his political power led him to believe that the referendum pledge would lead to many if not all of the European Union member states to renegotiate a package, which would be more politically and economically favorable. The last time a similar referendum was held was more than 40 years ago. Cameron therefore wanted the citizens to exercise their democratic right in the face of EU controversy.

 

 

 

References

Boucek, F 2012, David Cameron is applying lessons from his party’s history in The Conservatives’ ‘Euro War’, ISE Blogs.

Butler, G Dagnis Jensen, M. and Snaith, H 2016. ‘Slow change may pull us apart’: debating a British exit from the European Union. Journal of European Public Policy, pp.1-7.

Cameron’s 2013 EU Referendum Pledge*, JCMS 52, pp. 74-89.

Castle, S 2016, In ‘Brexit’ Vote, David Cameron Faces Problem of His Own Making. The New York Times. Accessed 17 November 2016 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/22/world/europe/david-cameron-brexit-european-union.html

Copsey, N, & Haughton, T 2013, Farewell Britannia? ‘Issue Capture’ and the Politics of David

Grice, A 2016, David Cameron wanted to unite us – he has just shown how divided we really are. The Independent. Accessed 17 November 2016 from http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-eu-referendum-result-david-cameron-latest-live-britain-leaves-european-union-a7099216.html

Herdson, D 2016, Why did Cameron call a referendum if Brexit poses so many risks? Total Politics. Accessed 17 November 2016 from https://www.totalpolitics.com/articles/opinion/david-herdson-why-did-cameron-call-referendum-if-brexit-poses-so-many-risks

Hunt, A, and Wheeler, B 2016, Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU  BBC News. Accessed 17 November 2016 http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887

Iyengar, R 2016, Here is Why the U.K. Held the ‘Brexit’ Referendum. TIME. http://time.com/4381184/uk-brexit-european-union-referendum-cameron/

Leyland, P 2016. The constitution of the United Kingdom: A contextual analysis. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Lord, C 2016. A democratic audit of the European Union. Springer.

Moore, C 2016, Why did Cameron call a referendum if he thought it could start a war? The Spectator. Accessed 17 November 2016 from http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/05/why-did-cameron-call-a-referendum-if-he-thought-it-could-start-a-war/

The Economist 2016, The Tories and Brexit: Mind Your step. N.p

The Electoral Commission 2016, The 2016 EU referendum, n.p.

 

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