Stay or leave? British people face crucial referendum decision on their future in Europe

The prime minister announced that a nationwide referendum would take place on June 23.

Sunday February 28 2016

Mayor of London Boris Johnson leaves his home in London on February 22, 2016.  London's mayor Boris Johnson on February 21 threw his weight behind the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, in a blow for his old friend and rival Prime Minister David Cameron, who had appealed for his backing.PHOTO | AFP

Mayor of London Boris Johnson leaves his home in London on February 22, 2016. London's mayor Boris Johnson on February 21 threw his weight behind the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, in a blow for his old friend and rival Prime Minister David Cameron, who had appealed for his backing.PHOTO | AFP 

By GERRY LOUGHRAN
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This column does not often venture into UK politics — Kenyans surely have enough of their own — but it is impossible to ignore the great debate currently gripping the nation: Should Britain stay in the European Union or should it leave?

A tsunami of reportage swamped newspaper readers and televiewers when Prime Minister David Cameron travelled to Brussels and negotiated non-stop with leaders of the 27 other EU nations.

Discussed at length were critical issues such as work and child benefits for non-British Europeans working in the UK, safeguards for countries like Britain outside of the Eurozone, and the policy of ever-closer union, which Britain rejects.

Back in 10 Downing Street after three days of tortuous argument, Cameron declared he had secured a deal that gave Britain a special status within the Union. Although he was unable to solve all the frustrations, he claimed that the concessions he won, including a compromise on benefits, constituted a big step in the right direction.

They would ensure that the UK would never be part of an EU super-state.

The prime minister then announced that a nationwide referendum on the agreement would take place on June 23.

“The choice is in your hands,” he said, “but my recommendation is clear. I believe that Britain will be safer, stronger and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union.”

Referendums are rare in Britain due to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. Occasionally, a referendum will be held to decide a local issue, but the only national one to date was in 1975.

Then, the public voted two-to-one to remain in the European Economic Community, which the UK joined in 1973.

What seized attention after the referendum announcement was the Boris Johnson question, that is, whether the influential Conservative MP and Mayor of London would be for staying or leaving.

ANTI-EUROPEANS

Sometimes described as the only MP known just by his first name, Johnson is a jokey, burly figure with flowing blond hair, who rides to Parliament on his bicycle. He is considered buffoonish by some, but his supporters point out that he has a classics degree from Oxford University, is a Latin scholar, a former editor of The Spectator weekly and the author of many books on history and politics.

In the event, Johnson chose to join the “Out” crowd, a blow to his friend, David Cameron, and a huge fillip for the anti-Europeans.

However, since the “In” crowd includes most senior Cabinet members, the opposition Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP which rules Scotland, and most of big business, the Borisites have a battle on their hands.

***

When hair stylist Rachel Williams filed for divorce, her husband, Darren, stormed into her salon with a sawn-off shotgun and blasted her in the leg. He then hanged himself in woodland.

Six weeks later, as Ms Williams was recovering in hospital, her 16-year-old son, Jack, was found hanged in the same spot.

Ms Williams said the shooting was the culmination of 18 years of domestic abuse. “My husband was a control freak,” she said.

A new programme is being introduced to protect vulnerable women, which centres on one-to-one sessions with the abuser rather than group work or family therapy.

Offenders are offered support to tackle any drug, alcohol or mental health problems.

Those who refuse to co-operate will be monitored closely by police and criminal sanctions considered to disrupt their behaviour.

NEW APPROACH

Rachel Williams believes the new approach, known as Drive, could have helped her husband. “He needed his actions addressing,” she said. “We’ve got to try and change the mind-set of perpetrators and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Diana Barran from SafeLives said, “Despite significant improvements for victim safety in the UK, there are still 100,000 women who live with high-risk domestic abuse at any one time.”

***

The following is a moral/ethical dilemma that was posed to job applicants.

You are driving down the road on a stormy night when you see three people at a bus stop -- an elderly lady who is looking very poorly, a friend who once saved your life, and the perfect partner you have always dreamed about.

You have room for only one passenger, so who do you give a lift to?

You could pick up the old lady because she seems on the verge of collapse. Or you could take your friend because you owe your life to him. But in either case, you might never see your perfect partner again.

The candidate who was hired (from 200 applicants) had no trouble coming up with his answer. He said: “I would give the car keys to my friend and let him take the old lady to hospital, so they are both out of the storm. I would stay behind and wait for the bus with the partner of my dreams.”

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