The United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union could be coming to a crossroads within the next few years, as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted Tuesday he no longer is fighting to keep the referendum off the ballot. Clegg is a fierce opponent of leaving the EU, relating it to “economic suicide,” but said on Tuesday that he now plans on showing the importance and benefits membership brings to the British economy, in hopes that he can convince voters to stay in.
The debate over EU membership centers on whether or not it is actually benefiting the British economy. EU supporters argue that membership has given British businesses a connection to the largest market in the world, and losing this connection could cripple the British economy. They also argue that while there might be some short term benefits from leaving the EU, the long term damage to the U.K. would have a huge, negative effect on Britain’s role in the world economy. Clegg and other European supporters have agreed that some reform is necessary, but that severing ties with the EU would be the wrong direction to go.
Those who want the U.K. to leave the EU have long stated that the disadvantages of membership outweigh any of the benefits. Business groups have argued that the EU places too many unnecessary regulations on businesses, hurting their ability to function and grow. They think that the EU has become too bureaucratic, and that the powers of the EU should be handed back to the national governments. Supporters of a withdrawal also have the people on their side, as seen in the polls. Since 2010, polls have shown that a majority of voters would like for the U.K. to leave the EU.
As of now, the only major party to support a referendum is the Conservatives, while the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats both have stated they will not support bring EU membership to a vote. The implications of such a vote are huge, and as seen in Nick Clegg’s comments on Tuesday, the possibility of a referendum is growing. This issue is not going away, and with the 2015 general elections coming up, the debate will only intensify.