The Conservative Party is split down the middle on the issue of Brexit. So-called “Tory modernisers”, such as David Cameron and George Osborne are keen for Britain to stay in the EU, but those on the right of the party see the referendum as the chance to win back the UK’s lost sovereignty. There are not too many big name Conservatives backing Brexit, but in Boris Johnson, the Leave campaign do have perhaps the biggest name of all. The Pound plummeted against the Dollar this week, following Mr Johnson’s announcement that he will campaign for Brexit, such is the Boris effect. Loss of sovereignty and fears of being dragged into a European superstate are the big fears of Eurosceptic Conservatives. The “open door” to EU immigration is also a big concern, but is less of an obsession that it is for UKIP. For Eurosceptic Conservatives, the Prime Minister’s renegotiation is no more than “thin gruel”, because it fails to significantly rein in the power of Brussels bureaucrats.
For the last few decades, the Labour Party has been blissfully untroubled by divisions when it comes to Europe. With the exception of some on the hard left, the party has been a supporter of the European project and Britain’s place within it. The election of Jeremy Corbyn, one of their most leftwing MPs, raised some doubts about the party’s stance on the EU. Mr Corbyn voted to leave what was to become the EU back in 1975, and is only reluctantly supporting continued membership now. Mr Corbyn has criticised the renegotiation for failing to focus on the right things – workers’ rights, for instance. In fact, Mr Corbyn will today attend a rally for nuclear disarmament instead of a Remain campaign event. The vast majority of the party’s MPs are campaigning to remain in the EU, with just a handful campaigning to leave.
The Scottish National Party is pro-EU, but there is talk that some Nationalists may vote tactically for Brexit to speed up the route to independence. The conventional wisdom is that the Scottish people are more Europhile than Eurosceptic, and that in the event of Brexit, the Scots would demand a fresh independence referendum, and that this time independence would be won. The SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, will certainly not be campaigning on the same platform as David Cameron. She had already warned him not to schedule the referendum for June, when Scottish elections are taking place, and she has also warned him not to come to Scotland during the referendum campaign. Ms Sturgeon is critical of the Prime Minister’s “narrow” and “negative” renegotiation. She says she wants to see a “positive in principle” Remain campaign. The SNP would have backed continued EU membership regardless of a renegotiation. But the dream remains to become an independent nation and EU member state. So the party finds itself in a uniquely conflicted position on Brexit.
The clue is in the name: The United Kingdom Independence Party was founded with the ambition of leaving the EU. “Kippers” as they are sometimes known, hate the EU and love Britain. The only split in the party is in terms of which Leave group to campaign for. Nigel Farage, the party leader, is on UKIP’s anti-immigration wing and is signed up with Leave.EU and GO. Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP, is on the party’s libertarian wing and is campaigning for rivals Vote Leave, a group dominated by Eurosceptic Conservatives. UKIP would never have been satisfied with David Cameron’s renegotiation. Anything short of full independence from the EU is not enough. While the party is happy with the idea of free trade with Europe, even a trace of political integration is a step too far. The renegotiation does not shut the “open door” to immigration and it does not end the supremacy of EU law. Therefore it clearly falls well short.
Britain’s most Europhile mainstream party was destroyed at the 2015 General Election. It went from holding 57 seats and a role in government as the Conservatives’ junior coalition partner, to just 8. Until the rise of UKIP and the SNP, the Lib Dems were the third party in British politics. They certainly aren’t anymore. They will campaign for continued EU membership. Indeed, they would have done so regardless of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation. But will anyone notice? They hardly get any airtime these days.
Northern Irish parties
The island of Ireland is considered to have more to lose from Brexit than the UK itself. Accordingly, most of the parties are campaigning to stay in the EU. The SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Fein are all calling for a vote to remain. The Ulster Unionists, meanwhile, are yet to confirm their stance. With the exception of the far-right TUV, the Democratic Unionist Party is the lone voice calling for Brexit. The First Minister of Northern Ireland is the DUP’s Arlene Foster, who is publicly backing the Leave campaign. Ms Foster has cited the DUP’s traditionally Eurosceptic outlook and the failure of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation to bring “fundamental change to our relationship with Europe” as reasons for recommending Brexit.
The Green Party is generally supported by young, pro-EU voters, and because of the UK’s first-past-the-post voting system, they, like UKIP, have much more support than their one MP would suggest. Unlike the Labour party, the Greens wholeheartedly support the idea of a referendum, because they are “pro-democracy, not anti-EU”. But like those on the left of the Labour Party, the Greens do not like the focus of David Cameron’s renegotiation. They wanted him to focus on democracy, human rights, peace and the planet, not on competition and free trade. Nevertheless, they mostly want to stay in the European project. The Greens are not completely united, however. Baroness Jones, one of the most senior figures in the party, is advocating Brexit to get away from “neoliberalism” and “austerity”.
Leftwing firebrand George Galloway, leader of the Respect party, was the surprise guest at a GO rally last Friday. Mr Galloway, and his tiny party, want to leave the EU for entirely different reasons from Nigel Farage, but the two were happy to share a stage.
Plaid Cymru, the Welsh answer to the SNP, is in favour of continued membership of the EU.
Edward Aldred has recently graduated from the University of Oxford, where he studied German. He is currently working as an intern with Open Europe Berlin.