David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, promised a referendum that would allow Britons to express their approval or disapproval of Britain’s membership in the European Union. This seemingly harmless promise is actually a way for Cameron to appease rightwing conservatives in his party, as well as a strategy to keep the UK Independence Party (UKIP)— devoted solely to making the UK leave the EU—from winning their allegiance. This can potentially help Cameron in the upcoming elections, but his promise of a referendum also poses harmful consequences for the UK.
If the UK votes to leave the EU, consequences can include the crippling of its economy and a weakening of its political influence. Businesses based in the UK will face higher tariffs, less preferable trade agreements, and numerous other barriers to growth. Not only will British businesses become less competitive compared to their European counterparts, but also the entire UK will be a less favorable place to start a new business. The financial sector will also face difficulties when separated and excluded from the EU’s financial markets. Losing its political position within the organization would undermine the UK’s global weight even further. Without its European alliances, it is likely that the UK will also be ignored in Washington, D.C.
The promise of a referendum still destabilizes UK’s economy and its political power even if the vote is in favor of the status quo—staying within the EU. Before the referendum takes place, companies uncertain about the future of international trade agreements with the EU will bring selected economic activities to a halt and all business decisions will be made more difficult. An unpredictable political future makes foreign and domestic investment in the UK riskier, thus less preferable. The amount of uncertainty introduced into the UK’s economy harms all industries. Whether the referendum results in staying or leaving the EU, the UK’s economy would be negatively impacted by Cameron’s promise. The UK is not the most important nation in the EU and other member nations will not prioritize the UK’s national interests when its allegiance is uncertain. By promising a referendum and publically demonstrating a lack of vested interest in the organization, Cameron risks alienating the UK from other member countries and dismissing the UK’s national interests by the EU. This puts the UK in a subordinate position and undermines its influence on important issues.
This promise also forces people to choose sides and abandons centralist voters who neither love nor hate the EU. Rather than focusing on negotiating for concessions within the EU, this referendum redirects the focus to a less relevant issue of the benefits of EU membership, which has an emotional nationalistic appeal but less of a rational one.
Referendums hold a noble connotation for their democratic ideals, but in this instance, it ignores the negative consequences. Rather than feeding momentum to the two polarized campaigns of hating or fervently supporting the EU, the country should embrace the realities of its EU membership and allow Britons to adjust to being a part of a multinational alliance. As time progresses, Britons will be accustomed to the idea. Its unique national identity is compromised along with its complete sovereignty, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the upfront costs. To allow the rightwing conservative dissenters gradually settle their emotional nationalistic attachment to an independent UK, while the rest of the nation to accustoms themselves to membership within the EU, is more aligned with the UK’s national interests than a referendum.