- - Monday, June 13, 2016


Arguments over the role of Britain in Europe will continue beyond the outcome of the referendum June 23 on whether Britain should leave the European Union, which appears more likely than it did a fortnight ago. A stunning new public-opinion poll shows a dramatic 10-point swing in public opinion, and what the British call “Brexit,” or “British exit,” now favors leaving, and by a substantial margin.

The argument over whether to leave has split the Conservative Party. Whatever the outcome, it probably means the end of the tenure of Prime Minister David Cameron, who wants Britain to stay, and he and his like-minded colleagues have had some nasty things to say about those who want to leave. The opposition Labor Party leadership has been seized by old-line leftists eager to return to old socialism, eager to trim Britain’s traditional commanding role in world affairs. This would damage and alter the “special relationship” with the United States.

President Obama not only chose not to invoke the special relationship, and could barely even speak well of it, making free with obvious anti-English prejudices imparted by his Kenyan father. A new president, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, would likely look again look to the close working relationship the French politicians sneer at as a cabal of “the Anglo-Saxons.”

Britain has always held reservations about joining the EU. London’s role as a principal financial center of the world, in part based on the universality of the British pound sterling, argued against joining the EU monetary union. But now with the euro under attack Angela Merkel of Germany and her allies in Europe not only want to reinforce the euro but to move toward further political integration. There’s wide consensus on the Continent that if the European Union doesn’t move further toward integration it will come apart. Many Britons, however, see the EU as nibbling away at their sovereignty and independence.

Many Tories have been infuriated by David Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU and his exaggerated warnings about the consequences of leaving. Sir John Major, the former Tory prime minister and an advocate for staying in, calls Tory advocates for leaving “dishonest,” “deceitful” and “squalid.” Not all the violent rhetoric is manufactured on this side of the Atlantic.

Mr. Cameron initially promised a referendum on Britain’s EU membership to quell a rebellion by Conservative Euroskeptics and the issue has taken a curious turn, setting off a bitter fight that cuts across party lines. It’s only a year since the Conservatives won a resounding national election but now Mr. Cameron’s government seems likely to dissolve long before its promised four more years.

The Conservatives have been divided for more than a quarter of a century over the issue. The argument has turned on whether the United Kingdom’s membership affords it enough additional trade and economic rewards to tolerate the unelected EU mice in Brussels who are prone to interfere in minor British law and customs.

Mr. Cameron earlier promised to resign the party leadership before the 2020 election, and the Brexit referendum has given a platform to the contenders to succeed him. Most prominent among them is Boris Johnson, the former Conservative mayor of London. He was born in America to upper-class English parents living temporarily in New York. There is no requirement that a prime minister be native born, but he has been called elitist, lazy, dishonest and accused of using racist and homophobic language. The “outsider disease,” as the American political establishment might call it, is catching. The winds blow sometimes east and sometimes west.

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