The United Kingdom will vote in June on membership in the European Union. The referendum is the result of an election promise by Prime Minister David Cameron. The government supports and promotes continued EU membership. However, the country is deeply split and the political parties are themselves divided, especially Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives.
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With the yes and no votes looking pretty evenly balanced, the authorities are desperately seeking new ways to persuade voters to cast their ballots for staying in.
Unfortunately, the government has been spending more time trying to scare voters about the consequences of exit than convincing them of the advantages of staying in. The Treasury has been particularly active, warning that the average British household could lose 4,300 pounds a year in income.
And even stronger medicine has been applied. Foreign scolding!
EU leaders have been wagging their fingers threateningly at Britain, along with international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund. Very little has been provided in the way of constructive information. Instead, foreign officials have been preaching gloom and doom, making it sound like deserved punishment if the democratic decision of UK voters is “inappropriate” or “immature.” Even the president of China opined that it was in his country’s interest for Britain to remain in the EU.
Barack Obama was even more outspoken, telling Britons that their country can take a place at the end of the line for U.S. trade agreements if they choose to leave the EU. If the president was trying to do David Cameron a favor, it backfired: pro-exit responses immediately surged in the polls.
The impression that has been created is of a UK government bereft of convincing arguments and dependent on support from abroad.
Voters don’t like foreigners meddling in their sovereign decisions. It is amazing that world leaders could be so blind to this fact, either through arrogance or ignorance.
Three years ago, Mr. Obama dismissed Russia as just “a regional power.” Observers said the calculated insult was intended to undercut President Vladimir Putin in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. If that was the plan, it didn’t sit well with Russian voters. Mr. Putin’s approval ratings soared to record levels.
The only thing EU politicians can do to help avoid Brexit is to listen closely to the British public and declare their readiness for reform. Other foreign leaders would do best to keep their mouths shut. This is primarily an issue between the UK and the EU; interventions by third parties can only do harm.
There is still time for Mr. Cameron and his government, their partners in Brussels and other European capitals, and various foreign well-wishers to change their tune. Right now, they are only stoking the anti-EU vote.