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By Mo. Babajide Alabi,
Published in Sunday Vanguard of June 5, 2016
Last week the campaign for Britain to stay or leave the European Union hot up as the leaders of the groups took time off to participate in live televised Sky TV debates. Although they were not face to face debates, they were very engaging and also offered the two camps opportunities to reach out to their audiences and also win the undecided voters.
First to take the stand on Thursday was Prime Minister David Cameron, the face of the “Remain” group, who was reported to have declined a proposal of a face to face live debate on the referendum. Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary and the most credible face of the “Leave” campaign group also took his turn on Friday to achieve two things. One, to get more people to jump on the ship to sail out of Europe, and secondly attempted to hit the final nail on Cameron’s political career.
Prior to the 2010 General elections, Cameron and Gove were in the same trench campaigning to wrest power from the Labour Party. They were united in same purpose as they strove to chase the “bald heads” out of town and make Britain great once again. At that time, the names of Cameron and Gove were mentioned in the same breadth. Unfortunately, these acts are now history as events in the past few months have put them asunder. Gove, though still in government, was the first to signify his ‘exit’ from Cameron’s European dream.
In the Conservative/Liberal Democrats Coalition that brought Cameron to government in 2010, Gove was reported as one of the few friends and allies that “sustained” his confidence in the coalition. At the inception of the coalition government, Gove served firstly as the Secretary of State for Education and ended up at the dissolution of the parliament as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, Government Chief Whip in the House of Commons.
Cameron needs no introduction. He is the youngest modern Prime Minister who, once again, with the backing of friends, such as Gove, propelled his Conservative party to a majority win in the 2015 General Elections. Unfortunately for the Tories, this majority win, rather than bring the party members together is about to tear the party apart.
As part of the elections campaign manifestoes, the Tories had promised a referendum on the membership of the country in the EU should it get it to power. While there had been clamours and agitations from various quarters for a reconsideration of the country’s membership of the Union, the bold step towards realising this was taken by Cameron in 2013.
On 22 January 2013, the Prime Minister promised that if his party should win the 2015 election it would seek to renegotiate the country’s relationship with the EU and thereafter offer citizens the “simple choice” in 2017 between “staying in the EU under those terms or leaving the EU.” This speech was the foundation for the referendum taking place on June 23, 2016, a few weeks from now.
Intoxicated by the majority win of the Tories, Cameron wasted no time in setting the motion for a renegotiation of this membership in motion. He promised immediately that his party would make good his promise of a referendum before the end of 2017. However, before offering the “simple choice” to his people, the PM took a long shot at convincing the other member countries that Britain deserves more than she is getting right now.
It was not an easy task for the Prime Minister. His journeys across the European continent were legendary as he tried to negotiate better deals for his country. After numerous consultations, he headed to Brussels with the fears and worries of the common men and women of Britain. With these, Cameron presented his case to the EU leaders that if he could get some reforms for his people, they probably would soften their stand on exiting.
As the day draws nearer, so also are the theatrics from both sides. The referendum has also “thrown” together unlikely allies both in the government and in the opposition. The Labour Party that played a hide and seek game on the issue of EU membership and referendum has unashamedly thrown its weight behind the PM and is now the strongest advocate of UK’s membership in the EU. The “iconic” joint campaign of Cameron and the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan last week was unthinkable a few months ago.
But these alliances are not allaying the fears of the British people. Apart from immigration, welfare benefits, the recent concerns of Britons is the likelihood that Turkey could become a member of the European Union. The PM is speaking from both sides of his mouth regarding Turkey, by saying Turkey stands no chance in decades to become a member of the EU. He seem not denying the fact that eventually Turkey would become a member.
The poster boy for the exit group has been the former Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Since his declaration of support for the Gove-led Leave group, Boris has not fallen short of the usual comedy he is associated with. On many occasions, he has turned the debate in its head and made a mockery of it all, especially with his reference to Hitler and his remark about Obama’s ancestry. Many have accused him of playing to the gallery and not really interested in the “substance” of the in or out of EU campaign, but has his eyes set on unseating Cameron so as to become the next Tory leader and ultimately the Prime Minister.
With the day drawing closer, one can see clearly the cracks in the Tory Party and the pressure that is mounting on Cameron. No matter the outcome of the referendum on June 24, observers believe the Prime Minister is living his last days in 10 Downing Street. Some brave Tory backbenchers have openly called for his resignation.
The former Works and Pension Secretary Iian Duncan Smith has painstakingly been going round about town “destroying” every data the Chancellor, George Osborne has put in support of the “stay” debate. On the other hand, Gove and his lieutenants have been throwing out unbelievable figures as weekly costs of membership of the EU. Gove, at the Sky Live debate defended his group’s claim that the country’s weekly bill to the EU is £350 million. An amount he said could strengthen the NHS.
Cameron and the members of the “Stay” group has also been accused of “scare mongering”, but he explained this that he was genuinely concerned about the repercussions of leaving the group. While these mud throwing is going on, many Brits are still undecided what group to queue behind. This supports the fact that there has been no convincing argument from both camps.
While the “In” group is impressing the economic benefits of staying and the dangers of leaving on Brits, the “out” group is playing on the “weakness” of the populace, by concentrating mainly on immigration and other sentimental topics.
It is not clear as at now which group will have the last laugh a few weeks down the line. But it is clear, Britain’s future successes or failures would be determined on June 23.
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