Cantillon: EU membership poll is a Brit confusing

David Cameron somewhat foolishly promised voters a referendum

Facing pressure from further to the right of the political spectrum, prime minister David Cameron somewhat foolishly (and to the fury of his Coalition partners) promised voters a referendum on the question that has vexed the country since the arrival at 10 Downing Street of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 – membership of the European Union.

Facing pressure from further to the right of the political spectrum, prime minister David Cameron somewhat foolishly (and to the fury of his Coalition partners) promised voters a referendum on the question that has vexed the country since the arrival at 10 Downing Street of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 – membership of the European Union.

Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 01:01

Irish voters are well used to being told by their political masters that they are poorly informed on an issue – usually after they have had the temerity to go against the political establishment on a referendum vote.

Spare a thought then for our British cousins.

Facing pressure from further to the right of the political spectrum, prime minister David Cameron somewhat foolishly (and to the fury of his Coalition partners) promised voters a referendum on the question that has vexed the country since the arrival at 10 Downing Street of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 – membership of the European Union.

It may never happen of course. Under UK law, no government can make a commitment binding on a successor government and Cameron’s coalition will need to seek voter approval well before the scheduled referendum date in 2017. But already some likely problems are emerging.

The Electoral Commission – the independent elections watchdog in the UK – has suggested that legislation on the proposed wording of any referendum should be changed. As it stands, apparently the wording asks whether the UK “should be” an EU member.

And the problem with that?

Well, according to research conducted by the commission, a large number of voters in the UK are unaware the country joined the EU – 40 years ago!

You can blame the consistently one-sided presentation of Europe by successive governments and by a near homogeneous press (at least on this issue), especially the tabloids, but it appears British voters have spent generations spitting venom at the “enemy at the gates”, unaware it had already scaled Dover’s chalk cliffs.

The thought occurs that Britain’s political establishment might finally have gained its just reward on this issue, alongside the financial and corporate worlds which have for too long been absent from the debate on the practical consequences of either outcome in any ballot.

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