The British government has decided to hold an election, the EU referendum, on June 23 to decide whether the country will stay in the EU.
Unlike Germany and some other continental European countries, the British citizen-society has had a longer history and is therefore more powerful. The “little government, big society” setup in the United Kingdom has made public opinion more influential with regard to government policies. Britain’s decision to hold the EU referendum is partly due to pressure from the public. Supporters of the U.K. leaving the EU are increasing in number, with the latest monthly poll at more than 50 percent in favor, reflecting the British public’s distrust of and value differences with continental Europe.
The distrust the British have toward the EU could be traced back to when Britain first joined the Union. Britain is not part of the Schengen Area nor is it in the eurozone; it may not be firmly against a more tight-knit Europe, but reality has made the British feel they were unfairly treated.
In the 1960s, Britain applied to join the EU twice but was vetoed by France. When the Conservative Party ruled the country in the 1990s, Britain did join the European currency system in preparation for entering the eurozone. However, in 1992, “Black Wednesday” occurred, a downturn caused by Germany and France not helping the British currency crisis. The two incidents increased the resentment the British had toward the rest of Europe, and the Conservative Party changed from supporting the EU to being anti-EU. Now with David Cameron in power, the EU referendum is taking place.
When it comes to values, Britain has big differences with continental European countries; it can seem stubborn and unique, especially when it comes to an understanding of freedom. Britain has always advocated and practiced liberalism, enabling social forces to prosper. In medieval times, the British royalty did not have absolute power; instead, it was somewhat restrained. As the British Parliament developed, the role of the royals shrank even further. Since the end of the 17th century, Britain has had a joint governing system with the king, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons, demonstrating liberalism in the political arena. When it comes to the economy, Britain values a free market. The first industrial revolution occurred in England because the free market played a pivotal role. Britain has always maintained and practiced the spirit of the free market. Even as later-developing countries began to grow, Britain has never abandoned its core of liberalism. In British society, the nongovernmental organizations have always been powerful in a highly self-disciplined society, so the EU is seen as somehow reducing British freedom and not accepted by many British citizens.
The principle of “no permanent friends, only permanent interests” has long guided British diplomacy, favoring realism. When faced with practical interests, the British do not have an unwavering position; whatever helps the country receive real interests is the most practical solution. The potential loss of national interests has convinced more British people to leave the EU. When Britain first joined the EU, it wanted the large continental European market, but that market is not irreplaceable by Asia.