PARIS – The possibility that Britain may exit the European Union is undeniable. For decades, prominent British politicians have propounded their disdain for Europe; as a result, euroskepticism in the United Kingdom has become entrenched. When the country holds a referendum on its EU membership on June 23, many voters may be unwilling to vote to remain.
Several factors have conspired to make a British exit, or “Brexit,” possible. Foremost is the rise of populism. After the UK ratified the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the British politician Nigel Farage left the Conservative Party and founded the UK Independence Party. Since then, he has made leaving the EU his life’s work (even though he takes full advantage of all the perks and privileges of being a member of the European Parliament). The effectiveness of his nationalist rhetoric is proof that the UK is not immune to populist demagoguery.
Another reason for europhobia’s hold on the British psyche is the country’s EU-obsessed tabloid newspapers, which are read by millions of people. Few men have done more to fuel anti-European frenzy than the Australian-American media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, owner of several newspapers and the UK’s most important private television news channel. In his book How Britain Will Leave Europe, former Minister for Europe Denis MacShane describes how former Prime Minister Tony Blair considered holding a referendum on adopting the euro, only to renounce the plan for fear that the “shadowy figure of Rupert Murdoch” would use his media empire to campaign against it.
Finally, Europe’s epochal migration crisis is not helping those trying to make the case for the EU. Farage has been quick to warn that “our migration crisis will get worse” should the UK remain in the union. He has also argued that the British people will be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks if the UK does not “leave the EU and to take back control of our borders.” (For France, which is currently struggling to do the UK’s job of controlling the border at Calais, this element of Brexit would be appealing.)