Tim L. Oliver

Why an In-Out Referendum Won't Settle the European Question in British Politics

SWP Comments 2013/C 14, May 2013, 8 Pages

An in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union is increasingly looked upon in the United Kingdom as not only likely but an essential step for the country to answer what David Cameron described as the »European question« in British politics. A referendum, it is hoped, will be cathartic; settling the question once and for all, cleansing British politics, providing a fresh start for relations, whether they are between a UK that is in or out of the EU. Those who express such hopes are expecting more from a referendum than it can provide. A referendum is a necessary step forward, but it is only that: a single step, after which further steps will be needed. Settling the European question and bringing stability to Britain's relations with the EU – whether in or outside the EU – will require comprehensive, longer-term changes, which a referendum can help trigger but in no way guarantee.

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