Only a few months ago, the general political consensus was that Britain would vote to stay in the European Union in the upcoming EU referendum. With Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and many (but far from all) Conservatives taking the stance that Britain is better off within the EU, it seemed unlikely that Britain would vote to leave. However now the political landscape has changed and momentum is rapidly moving towards the 'leave' campaign.
Polls are now showing an almost even split between 'remain' and 'leave', with both campaigns hovering around 40%. This is in sharp contrast to June this summer when only 27% of the electorate backed the 'leave' campaign. It is clear that despite the dire warnings regarding the consequences of a Brexit, the public simply isn't listening.
David Cameron's visit to the European Council last week to discuss his plans for a curb on EU migrant benefits simply looked like a last ditch attempt to make it seem as if he doing something to reform Europe. Given that it now seems unlikely he will achieve his main goal of reforming EU benefits, this was more a gesture to his Eurosceptic backbenchers than it was a serious attempt at restricting benefits to EU migrants. And if this was a serious attempt at reform, it was an incredibly feeble one; Cameron knows his European partners are unwilling to go along with his discriminatory plans.
The fact is much of his party remains sceptical of the European Union, and although some may be persuaded to vote to stay if Cameron does achieve his benefits reforms, most will remain unconvinced. They feel the EU is too powerful, and Cameron simply isn't addressing this issue.
The public's relationship with Europe is also a frosty one, with most agreeing Europe needs reform. The right want benefits to be restricted for migrants, less immigration, and for the EU to have less power while the left are critical of Europe in light of Greece's financial treatment. Although clearly the left and right's demands vary, they both agree some form of change is necessary for us to remain in Europe, which provides the 'leave' campaign with an immediate advantage. Essentially, Britain is a Eurosceptic nation that just hasn't decided whether it really wants to commit to leaving yet.
But as the decision draws closer, with the referendum looking likely to be held sometime in 2016, public opinion is moving towards a Brexit. It seems inconceivable to think we would just up and leave the European Union now after such successes regarding the environment, trade, workers rights and diplomacy. Yet it looks increasingly likely.
Frankly, the campaign to remain in Europe has been extremely underwhelming thus far. Instead of making a positive case for Europe, it has simply focussed on the dire consequences of a Brexit. Although this strategy will persuade some, it will fail to convince the numbers needed for a 'remain' victory. And despite the public respecting and listening to the business community, the campaign has to include other voices or it risks becoming incredibly repetitive and restricted.
The 'remain' campaign's staggering complacency is now causing a political earthquake as Britain heads for the exit door. In order to quell the Eurosceptic surge, it must begin to make the positive case for Europe. Although the consequences of a Brexit will indeed be great, the campaign is increasingly looking like an establishment fear project, which plays perfectly into the 'leave' campaign's hands as it continues to portray itself as the anti-establishment vote.
Furthermore, Cameron's extensive EU renegotiation is now beginning to harm the case for Europe as it continues to drag on without any visible success. Even if he does come back with significant changes, it is unclear whether this would influence public opinion or not. Most probably, it will be of little significance.
The public's concerns, although encompassing migrant's benefits, are mainly centered around immigration and what many see as an unfair amount of power that the EU wields. Both of these issues, without radical change and a European consensus, cannot be addressed properly. The campaign to stay within Europe now has to overcome substantial barriers if it is to convince the public of its case. However, this won't be achieved through the sort of negative campaigning we have witnessed thus far. If Britain is to stay within Europe, the 'remain' campaign has to drastically change its course of persuasion. If not, a Brexit seems inevitable.Suggest a correction