The Biggest EU Referendum Myth?

There is a lot of competition for the biggest myth of the UK referendum campaign. Viewed from the outside – by a Brit who has lived in Brussels so long I don’t have a vote – it’s like watching someone shooting themselves in the foot (‘See? That’s showed you!’). A horrified fascination that you just can’t turn your head away from.

But amidst all the lies, myths and misinformation, there is one that jumps out at me (today at least).

It was summed up this morning on the radio by a leave voter interviewed in a pub. ‘Once it’s all done and dusted they’ll find something else to talk about’, he said, with an air of boredom about the whole EU debate.

Yes, I’m sure that people in the UK are going to be thoroughly bored of talking about, reading about, watching stories about the EU by 24 June.

One year ago, only 2% of Brits thought that the UK’s relationship with Europe was the most important issue facing the country (according to this Ipsos MORI survey). But now, the country is on the verge of voting to make it not just the issue of the week, or month, but the defining issue for years to come.

A Leave vote will make the European Union THE story in the UK for years. The economic, political, legal, social consequences will dominate the news, the economy, and the political agenda.

Negotiating a new relationship with the EU will take years. And with every other Member State getting a veto, the negotiations are likely to prove complex and uncertain. The UK’s position will be unclear and incoherent, since Parliament will have vastly different views on how to proceed to the Brexit Tories. (What model to go for: Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Turkey, WTO?) Other Member States have their own issues to worry about, and domestic elections to win – which will hardly make them likely to cave to the UK’s self-hostage situation (‘Give me the money or I’ll shoot…. myself’).

And in the meantime, pretty much everything that happens in the UK will be viewed through the lens of the Brexit. Environment? Social policies? NHS? Unemployment? Infrastructure investment? The danger is that there will be no space to discuss any of these things seriously for years. It will all be on hold as the UK deals with the crisis and uncertainty, tries to rebuild trade relations, and to find the answers to hundreds of questions that have not even been asked yet.

So bad news for those sick of the EU debate. After years of wilfully refusing to discuss Europe, Brexit will put it at the heart of British political discourse for years to come.


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