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  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
30 May 2018

Why a referendum re-run will be very difficult for pro-Europeans to win

Italy is a part of the problem. George Osborne is another. 

By Stephen Bush

Italy’s economic and political crisis is the subject of a number of terrible takes from pro-Brexit commentators here in the United Kingdom, many of which display an astonishing level of ignorance about Italian politics, the Italian constitution and indeed the Eurozone more broadly.

Italy is not the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom is not Italy, and the circumstances around Brexit and Italy’s relationship with the Euro are so different as to make most comparisons so broad as to be meaningless. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t have an impact on Britain’s Brexit debate, and it is another factor that would make the next referendum harder for Remainers to win.

As I’ve written before, even a cursory look at British politics past and indeed present means that arguing that there won’t, at some point, be another referendum on British membership of the European Union is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof. I laid out some of the possible circumstances of a referendum re-run this morning.

But pro-Europeans should be aware of the considerable difficulties they would face and move to address at least some of them. One, of course, would be the idea that the United Kingdom would have to join the euro if it rejoined. This is bollocks from soup to nuts, rather like Vote Leave’s claim that Turkey was poised to join the European Union. No member of the European Union is going to be forced to join the Eurozone if it doesn’t want to, not least because the Eurozone has enough problems as it is. But I see no reason why it would be any less effective than the Turkey claim and plenty of reasons why it would be more effective, particularly as the rebuttal itself doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the European project.

Another is that in the run up to the last referendum, the Remain campaign made a series of short-term predictions about the economy that have not borne out. You can look at the global uptick in growth, the pressure on wages and come up with a persuasive – and in my view, correct – argument that Brexit has badly hurt British economic performance. But that argument will still be made in a political context in which the largely pro-Brexit press will be able to fairly point to dire predictions from George Osborne about the immediate impact that did not come true.

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And the Italian crisis adds another front for Remainers. One powerful card in the referendum re-run will be the chaotic muddle the government is making of Brexit and contrasting it with a European Union that is reforming, growing at a faster rate than the United Kingdom, etc. etc. Which, until the Italian elections was a hard argument to rebut. But a re-eruption of the Eurozone crisis takes that weapon out of pro-European hands and instead hands another weapon to Leavers, who will be able to claim that the EU is falling apart at the seams and the United Kingdom is better off out of it all.

Again, not to say that these problems are insurmountable – but it is to say that they are considerable, and require more thought than they have so far received.

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