Brexit: too much at stake
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Brexit: too much at stake

Thursday’s EU referendum in the UK will determine whether Britain remains a member of the EU – and the result will have far-reaching consequences not only for the UK but for Europe and the whole world.

Unfortunately, most of the opinion polls of late have been showing the Leave bloc to be ahead, so a once unthinkable Brexit is now a very real possibility. Concerns over EU migration – which are very often exaggerated – coupled with traditional old-fashioned British antagonism towards Europe probably explains why those wanting to quit the EU are ahead in the polls.

The EU is not a perfect organisation but it has been a remarkable success story for all its members, and Britain is no exception. The UK’s membership has led to economic growth, job creation, lower prices, greater rights for workers, the right to live, work and study abroad, funding for the arts, science and the regions, environmental protection, greater security and a leading role for Britain not only in Europe but on the international stage.

The UK has also helped shape the EU for the better. It has long been a champion of the Single Market, it has offered a counterweight to the German-French partnership within the bloc and its membership of the EU gives the Union extra clout globally. Britain has also managed to get the best of both worlds in the EU; it is not part of the single currency or the Schengen agreement and it has a number of important opt-outs.

A Brexit would put all this at risk. Sterling has fallen considerably ever since the Leave side starting gaining in the polls, and a vote to leave the EU would almost certainly see the pound crash. The overwhelming majo­rity of British economists, businesses and trade unionists have warned of negative economic consequences should the UK decide to leave; so have the experts at the IMF, the OECD and the Treasury, as well as the G7 and the Commonwealth nations.

A victory for the Leave side could also lead to the breakup of the UK, with Scotland and perhaps also Wales opting for independence and separate EU membership. In such a scenario it is not difficult to imagine the negative consequences on Northern Ireland and the undermining of the peace process, which Britain and Ireland, both EU members, have worked so hard to achieve.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who is strongly urging a vote for the Remain side, and whose Conservative Party is split down the middle on the country’s EU membership, took a huge gamble when he decided to call this referendum. He had promised it only to satisfy his eurosceptic backbenchers and ministers, and for an electoral advantage.

Furthermore, years of ferocious attacks and nonsense stories in the tabloid press against the EU have certainly taken their toll on the average British citizen’s mindframe, as has the habit, mainly by Conservative politicians, of making Brussels the scapegoat for the country’s problems.

The consequences of a Brexit on Europe would be profound. It would create an institutional crisis and uncertainty in the markets. It would rob the bloc of one of its best and largest members – the UK’s economy is the fifth largest in the world and the second largest in Europe. It would encourage other like-minded anti-EU movements. Europe’s foreign and security policy would also be severely weakened – the UK is a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Malta would lose one of its best friends in the EU, with whom it shares many common interests.

Even though the polls are not looking good for the Remain side, all is not yet lost. There are still a large number of undecided voters – who normally vote for the status quo – and a three per cent swing among Labour Party voters is all that is needed for the Remain bloc to win. Every effort must be made, up to the last day of the campaign, to mobilise potential Remain voters. There is simply too much at stake.

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