All Brexit Is Local

All Brexit Is Local

Party politics have always driven Britain's troubled relationship with the EU.

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned as deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom in protest of Margaret Thatcher’s staunch anti-Europeanism. Howe’s departure from the frontbenches came just two days after Thatcher’s denunciation in Parliament of plans for a European single currency (“No! No! No!”), a moment that has since become totemic of what Howe condemned in his resignation speech as the prime minister’s alacrity to undermine her own ministers over European issues. Whereas some in Thatcher’s cabinet—not least of all Howe, a former foreign secretary, and Nigel Lawson, then chancellor of the exchequer—preferred that Britain be an active participant in crafting Economic and Monetary Union, the Iron Lady consistently sought to stymie their progress and appeared bent on using British influence to forestall the emergence of European-level institutions of economic governance. An impasse existed at the top of British politics, one that Howe sought to overcome by precipitating an open debate within the Conservative Party over the country’s future in Europe and the wider world.

Addressing a packed House of Commons, Howe negatively contrasted Thatcher’s rejection of European integration with Harold Macmillan’s brand of pro-European conservatism. Macmillan, of course, had been the original petitioner for British membership in the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1961. According to Howe, a hallmark of Macmillan’s foreign policy had been his recognition that Britain must “place and keep” itself at the heart of Europe. Macmillan “saw it as essential,” Howe explained to MPs, for the British “not to cut ourselves off from the realities of power; not to retreat into a ghetto of sentimentality about our past and so diminish our own control over our own destiny.” The point of the comparison was to cast Thatcher as a petty and wrongheaded nationalist, someone whose blustering patriotism would lead to a shrinking of Britain on the world stage. Britain’s future lay not in Thatcher’s romantic dream of splendid isolation but in something more akin to Macmillan’s sober, pragmatic and statesmanlike brand of multilateralism.

As it turned out, neither Howe’s resignation nor his calculated Commons oration succeeded at promoting a full and galvanizing discussion within the Conservative Party on Britain’s relationship with Europe. Instead, his intervention was overtaken by events. Badly damaged by Howe’s shot across her bows, Thatcher was challenged for the party leadership by Michael Heseltine. And after failing to rally enough Conservative MPs to her corner, Thatcher quit the premiership ultimately to be replaced by her preferred successor, John Major. (Tellingly, Major’s seven-year stint as prime minister would be just as—if not more—marred by cabinet and backbench rebellions over Europe as the tail end of Thatcher’s time in Downing Street.) Lost amid this dramatic sequence was Howe’s original analysis: that Thatcher and Macmillan represented two poles of Conservative political thought towards Europe; that Macmillan had essentially been right to support internationalism and integration; and that Thatcher was wrong to oppose Europe in the name of preserving national sovereignty.

Given that it was not fully dissected at the time—and especially in light of Britain’s impending referendum on EU membership—there is a great deal to be gained from revisiting Howe’s central contention. Was he correct that Thatcher had strayed from a more sensible foreign policy set by Macmillan three decades earlier? Is European integration—the pooled sovereignty, the convergence of economic policies, the perpetual battles over questions of democracy, legitimacy and accountability—a prudent course for British leaders to plot for their country on the world stage? And as the United Kingdom contemplates Brexit, what are the lessons—if any—for the twenty-first century?


IN FACT, Howe’s juxtaposition of Macmillan and Thatcher can be said to crystallize a common misconception in British political discourse that continues to this day: that the debate on British involvement in Europe boils down to a disagreement over Britain’s role in the world. For contrary to Howe’s suggestion, Macmillan never saw European integration as a solution to the question of Britain’s foreign policy, vexing though this question was for him. He preferred instead to put stock in Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States as a way to safeguard the country’s international standing.

Macmillan’s actual view—one that would later be shared by Thatcher—was that Britain should pursue European integration to bolster economic growth; as an institutional guarantee that Britain’s domestic economy would continue to be market oriented; and to steal a march on the embattled Labour opposition of the day. In other words, closeness with Europe was to be sought as an outgrowth of domestic political exigencies, not as a way to reorient Britain’s foreign policy. And despite the lofty imagery often touted by pro-Europeans, this basic political calculus has remained operative ever since: British policy towards Europe overwhelmingly is a product of Innenpolitik over Aussenpolitik, of partisan politics over geopolitics. This was true in the 1960s and the 1980s, and it is still true today.

Not that Macmillan was oblivious to the question of Britain’s role in the world, of course. After all, his premiership (1957–63) unfolded in the shadow of the Suez Crisis (1956), the international debacle that saw Britain—working in concert with France and Israel—launch an ill-fated military assault to wrest control of the Suez Canal away from the Arab nationalist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser. What this ignominious episode brought home to Macmillan was that the era in which Britain could act unilaterally in foreign affairs had come to an end. In the recent past, Britain had been primus inter pares among the great powers. Now, the United States and the Soviet Union were unmistakably dominant. Even in regions historically in Britain’s sphere of influence, such as the Middle East, it was the superpowers that held the most sway. Not even leadership of the dwindling Empire and a transformed Commonwealth was enough to cement Britain’s place in the top flight of states. The ground upon which international politics took place had shifted, Macmillan saw, and Britain’s place in the world with it.

But it would be wrong to conclude that Macmillan looked to Europe to solve this foreign-policy predicament. He did not. Instead, the most important component of Macmillan’s foreign policy was to move Britain more closely into the U.S. orbit. “These Americans represent the new Roman Empire,” he once confided, “and we Britons, like the Greeks of old, must teach them how to make it go.” Towards the end of husbanding Britain’s role in the world to that of the United States, Macmillan worked hard to rebuild the wartime special relationship that had been so badly damaged by Suez. Macmillan fostered warm relations with President Eisenhower and even warmer relations with Ike’s successor, John F. Kennedy, with whom Macmillan concluded the Nassau Agreement in 1962 to secure U.S.-manufactured Polaris missiles for Britain. Indeed, the Macmillan-Kennedy relationship often is regarded as a high point of closeness between Anglo-American leaders, an era in which cooperation blossomed over nuclear issues, intelligence sharing and military planning.

Viewed from this perspective, integration into Europe was hardly necessary to stay Britain’s geopolitical decline. Britain’s security and diplomatic clout would be secure so long as the country could boast a firm alliance with the United States, Macmillan wagered. The decision in 1961 to apply for membership in the EEC, then, had to have been driven by different motivations altogether. And what the historical record makes clear is that these motivations were partisan in character.

First, Macmillan—despite his reputation as a central planner—recognized that Britain needed better access to foreign markets to generate economic growth at home and placate the domestic constituents upon whom Macmillan and his colleagues in the Conservative Party relied for political support. Powerful groups such as the Federation of British Industries envied the enormous economic gains being made by the EEC’s member states and lobbied Macmillan to secure similar free-trade agreements for British business. Eager to keep the Conservatives’ near monopoly of the business vote, Macmillan was all too happy to oblige.

Initially, Macmillan championed the creation of a rival to the EEC, the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA), to fulfil this partisan objective. And following its creation in 1960, EFTA, which united Western Europe’s non-EEC countries into a single trade regime, did go some way towards facilitating British firms doing greater commerce with the continent. In the end, though, a consensus emerged that Britain’s competitiveness could not be brought into line with the major economies of Western Europe without the level playing field that only British membership in the EEC could bring.

In time, EFTA came to be seen more as a political bargaining chip to gain British entry to the EEC and less as a viable economic entity in its own right. But throughout the period, it is clear that Macmillan and his Cabinet made European policy largely according to a simple political rationale: freer trade and open markets would benefit British business and, in turn, would bolster the political standing of the Conservative Party. Whichever model of European integration would best serve these domestic political ambitions was the model that Macmillan would throw his weight behind.

The decision to apply for EEC membership was made easier on Macmillan by the fact that, not only would it benefit constituents within his own party, but it would also put the opposition Labour Party on the back foot. Ensconced in a thirteen-year “wilderness” period (1951–64) characterized by left-wing infighting, Labour in the early 1960s was torn between traditionalists who thought that the EEC was nothing more than a “businessman’s club” and modernizers who saw some advantage in European supranationalism. Most importantly from Macmillan’s perspective, Hugh Gaitskell, the then Labour leader (1955–63) with a solid reputation for centrism, found himself at odds with his party’s modernizers on the European question.

The political opportunity was not lost on Macmillan. Whereas his government and the majority of backbench Conservative MPs were more-or-less united in their appreciation of the economic case for Europe, Macmillan knew that the prospect of EEC membership would become a “wedge issue” for Labour—laying bare the party’s internal divisions and, even better, isolating Gaitskell from his usual base of supporters within the fractured party. Making Europe an electoral issue would draw a helpful contrast between the Labour regulars’ insular and outdated vision of Fortress Britain and the image that Macmillan wanted for the Conservatives: a modern, internationalist and progressive party unafraid to take bold steps to improve the lot of the country.

Of course, it is possible to overstate the partisan causes of Macmillan’s decision to apply for EEC membership. Other factors, including geopolitical considerations, were at play. The United States was a keen advocate of Britain’s full participation in Europe, with American leaders concerned that rival trading blocs on the continent would damage the unity of the Western alliance. And given the overall context of the Cold War, such concerns were taken seriously in Whitehall. In time, Washington’s prodding helped Macmillan recognize that placing Britain at the heart of the EEC would make geopolitical sense as well as economic sense—not because Britain’s future lay in Europe per se, but because formal British influence in Europe would be necessary to keep London relevant to the playmakers in Washington.

American pressure notwithstanding, the Macmillan Doctrine, as it applied to Europe, was not so much a blueprint for pressing Britain’s interests on the world stage as it was a corollary of the prime minister’s twin desires to find new avenues to promote British trade and industry and to outflank the opposition Labour Party. Insofar as geopolitical considerations were taken into account at all, the goal was to cement the Anglo-American special relationship as the central pillar of British defense and security policy, not to replace the transatlantic alliance with a European solution. Macmillan saw Europe not so much as an answer to the question of Britain’s role in the world, but as a pragmatic response to his party’s domestic political environment. It was on this basis that he campaigned for membership in the EEC.


MACMILLAN NEVER succeeded at gaining British entry to the EEC during his premiership—his government’s application was unceremoniously vetoed by the Anglophobic French President Charles De Gaulle in 1963—and it would be a decade before Macmillan’s vision became reality under the stewardship of fellow Conservative Edward Heath. But Macmillan’s insight that domestic political advantage could be gained from European integration would not be lost on his successors—including prime ministers from both the Conservative and Labour Parties. Indeed, Macmillan’s example in this regard would orient British policy towards Europe for the next five decades and until the present day.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the record of Margaret Thatcher, despite Howe’s best efforts in 1990 to present Thatcher as the anti-Macmillan. To be sure, Thatcher’s brand of conservatism was very different from that of “Supermac.” Whereas Macmillan was a well-known pragmatist and an advocate of forging a “middle way” between right and left, Thatcher was a New Right ideologue; the conviction politician par excellence. It’s thus understandable that Howe would reach for Macmillan when seeking to portray Thatcher as out of touch with mainstream traditional conservatism.

Yet despite these real differences, the broad contours of Thatcher’s foreign and European policies were remarkably similar to those of her more moderate predecessor. The Anglo-American special relationship, for example, which Macmillan had salvaged from the depths of Suez, remained strong under Thatcher and her U.S. counterpart Ronald Reagan—the strongest it had been since Macmillan and Kennedy. Thatcher was guilty of hubris when it came to diplomacy, to be sure, but her delusions of grandeur were not boundless. She knew full well that leadership of the Free World belonged to the United States, and that Britain was a junior partner in the Anglo-Saxon firm. Still, she calculated—and not without good reason—that this arrangement was advantageous for Britain and that keeping the special relationship in good repair was an utmost priority.

Like Macmillan, then, Thatcher saw British foreign and defense policy as being best served through the Atlantic alliance. And like Macmillan, it was domestic economic considerations—not geopolitical concerns—that motivated her policies towards Europe. Today, Thatcher’s legacy in the popular imagination is as a spoiler on European issues, yet during the 1970s and for most of the 1980s it would have been absurd to suggest that Thatcher was anti-European in any meaningful way. As education secretary under Heath, she was part of the government responsible for taking Britain into the EEC. And one of Thatcher’s first acts as leader of the opposition in 1975 was to campaign in favor of Britain’s continued membership in the EEC after Labour prime minister Harold Wilson had submitted the question to a popular vote to appease the Labour left.

Indeed, the 1975 referendum campaign showcased just how much Thatcher stood to gain from investing in European integration. Whereas Wilson’s cabinet was publicly divided over the EEC, with left-wing heavyweights such as Michael Foot and Tony Benn vigorously campaigning against the official government position, Thatcher’s shadow cabinet stood united in support of remaining part of Europe. The gambit paid off handsomely: by brandishing her party’s pro-European credentials, Thatcher was able to exploit Labour’s well-worn divisions over Europe while simultaneously rallying her core base of supporters in the business community.

After becoming prime minister in 1979, Thatcher would preside over a period of noticeably deepened European integration. Aside from being good politics, this support for European economic integration was also good policy from the perspective of a New Right Conservative like Thatcher. Indeed, full membership in the EEC was a “no brainer” for any committed free trader. It should therefore have come as no surprise when, in office, Thatcher initiated a big push for the expansion and the deepening of Europe’s free-trade rules. Most notably, she signed the Single European Act of 1986, which established the goal of a truly single European market for goods and services and introduced qualified majority voting—that is, the removal of national vetoes—for decisionmaking over many European-level trade issues.

Yet if Thatcher’s support for Europe’s economic convergence was largely the product of partisan consideration, so too were her occasional anti-European stances—which became more frequent and more intense towards the end of her premiership. Thatcher’s demand for a British “rebate” on contributions made to the EEC’s budget, her opposition to a European single currency, and her public scorn for other trappings of a European superstate, for example, each served to rally Little Englanders to the Conservative flag and force her Labour detractors to appear on the side of “Johnny Foreigner” whenever they dared to criticize her defense of British sovereignty.

For a long time, in fact, Thatcher was able to use Europe as an issue to achieve two partisan goals: to curry favor among the British business community via her robust defense of free trade while still exciting the passions of Little Englanders by loudly denouncing other aspects of the European project. By 1990, the contradictions inherent in this balancing act had become too much for some within the party to bear, not least of all Howe. But there can be little doubt that Thatcher’s policies on Europe—although markedly different in tone and style from Macmillan’s—were driven by a basic political calculus that would have been eminently recognizable to the aging Earl of Stockton (the title given to Macmillan in 1984, two years before his death). For both leaders, European policy was a tool with which to strengthen the Conservative Party’s electoral fortunes and make life difficult for a Labour opposition that struggled to find unity and purpose on the issue. In this sense, at least, there is significant continuity in how both viewed Europe in the context of British politics and policymaking.


THE PROBUSINESS case for Europe has served as the bedrock of Conservative support for European integration since the late 1950s and early 1960s through to the present day. While a significant number of Tories still chafe at the loss of sovereignty implied by supranational cooperation at the European level, the party’s deep-seated vested interest in promoting free trade—itself a product of the party’s key constituencies of electoral support—tends to prevail when it comes to setting actual policy. All in all, Tory-led Britain has had a loveless marriage with Europe, but it has been a marriage nonetheless: a long-term commitment borne out of material self-interest and a desire for economic security.

By contrast, the Labour Party’s attitude towards Europe has been far less consistent. As noted above, many Labour politicians have historically opposed Europe as a businessman’s club or a neoliberal superstate bent on curbing the party’s ability to implement socialist policies at Westminster. Euroskepticism of this nature has a venerable pedigree within Labour ranks, and has variously been championed by Hugh Gaitskell in the 1960s, Michael Foot and Tony Benn in the 1970s and 1980s, and a slew of “Old Labour” reactionaries in the 1990s and 2000s.

Labour’s traditional distrust of Europe is a part of a wider leftist critique of globalization. For the most part, Britain’s postwar leftists have been believers in the so-called Bretton Woods compromise, what John Gerrard Ruggie famously referred to as “embedded liberalism.” Under these rules, freer trade among the world’s nations was encouraged but with the explicit proviso that national governments would retain the right to intervene in their domestic economies whenever there was a pressing need—or a democratic mandate—to do so. Traditional left-wing solutions to economic problems such as unemployment were thus tolerated even as Western political elites committed themselves to the broad goal of economic liberalization.

The demise of Bretton Woods in the 1970s and 1980s, however, was followed by a new and, in many ways, more intense form of globalization, what economist Dani Rodrik has branded “the golden straitjacket.” Under this new framework, the only role of governments was to open up domestic markets and capital accounts; the economic orthodoxy held that countries should avoid implementing far-reaching fiscal or monetary policies lest they chase away lucrative foreign trade and investment. Globalization and international economic cooperation became synonymous with neoliberal economics.

For neoliberals like Thatcher, membership in the EEC was desirable in part because it provided an institutional mechanism for committing Britain’s central government to obeying the strictures of the golden straitjacket. That is, from Thatcher’s perspective, European integration meant ceding rights of government intervention in the domestic economy that never should have been exercised by responsible national governments in the first place. The EEC would provide a roof under which an unfettered free market could operate and left-wing economic policies would be rendered impracticable. For the Labour left, however, willingly ceding national authority over large chunks of economic policy was anathema for reasons of both political philosophy and intense sectional interest. How would the party deliver for its supporters once European integration had succeeded in neutering the British state?

It was not until the late 1980s, and especially the advent of New Labour in 1994, that the Labour Party became decisively pro-European. During the 1990s, in fact, Labour actually became more pro-European than the Conservatives. But credit for this overhaul in Labour’s European policy does not belong to modernizing leaders like Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair, although such leaders did much to move their copartisans towards acceptance of the probusiness case for Europe. Rather, the real reason for Labour’s volte-face was that Europe itself underwent fundamental changes—particularly by taking on the character of a “social market.”

The idea of the social market economy (soziale Marktwirtschaft) is German in origin, and essentially means that there should be robust political checks against the worst excesses of free-market economics. At the domestic level, this means fairly generous social insurance schemes and government regulations to protect workers’ rights. At the European level, the social market concept found expression as the Agreement on Social Policy. The so-called “Social Chapter” of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union represented a formal aspiration to institute supranational rules on employment, living and working conditions, and other matters of social policy with the goal of making it less likely that economic cooperation would lead to a self-defeating “race to the bottom” among the states of Europe.

For Labour, the prospect of the Social Chapter’s adoption made Europe much more attractive as a political proposition. During the 1980s, Labour had fought bitterly against what they saw as Thatcher’s attempts to destroy workers’ protections—her reforms of the trade unions, for example. What the Social Chapter appeared to offer was a means of (re)instituting legal protections for workers and, ideally, expanding such legislation. “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain,” Thatcher complained in 1988, “only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels.” But this is exactly what Labour politicians in the early 1990s hoped for; they had finally come to recognize that Europe could be used as a tool to advance their own partisan agenda as much as it was a tool of Europe’s capitalist classes. Labour could go on the offensive instead of always finding itself on the defensive against modernizing Conservative governments.

Indeed, Labour would make life extremely difficult for John Major’s luckless Conservative government by refusing to support ratification of the Maastricht Treaty unless Britain signed up to the Social Chapter. This move caused enormous problems for Major, who was engaged in a fierce battle with backbenchers from his own party who were opposed to the entire notion of greater European integration, let alone the inclusion of the Social Chapter. In the end, Major secured a British opt-out of the Social Chapter and narrowly escaped losing a vote of confidence in his government’s policy. But an important and game-changing blow had been struck: for decades, the Conservatives had been deft at exploiting Labour divisions over Europe; now, the tables had been turned and for the first time in recent history, Europe was working as a wedge issue on Labour’s behalf.

The Conservatives’ internal fissures over Europe would only worsen during the 1990s. The party was torn between a vocal minority of MPs who saw the increasingly social-democratic character of the European Union as reason enough to leave the organization and a broad, if timid, majority who still believed that the economic benefits of integration justified continued British participation. The question for Major and his successors—William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and now David Cameron—has never really been fully resolved: Is membership in Europe still an electoral asset for the Conservative Party, or would there be more to gain by becoming a clearly anti-European party? All the while, Labour leaders in the 1990s and early 2000s could rejoice; their internal battles over Europe had been put to rest for the time being, and all that was left to do was exact vengeance on the hapless Conservatives.

Of course, the notion that the EU is a protector of workers’ interests—a kind of “social straitjacket” capable of keeping governments on a left-of-center trajectory just as the “golden straitjacket” was supposed to do for neoliberal economics—has come into serious question. Especially in light of Europe’s treatment of Greece during its ongoing economic crises, many on the left are once again questioning the benefits of EU membership, resurrecting the old criticism of European integration as a nail in the coffin of socialism at the level of the nation-state. The success of far-right political parties in elections to the European Parliament has cast additional doubt on whether Europe is a viable forum within which left-wing reforms can be enacted. These recent developments serve as a reminder that Labour’s love affair with Europe is not destined to last forever, but instead is precariously contingent upon Europe proving itself a useful vehicle for left-leaning policy outcomes.


ALL IN all, Britain’s membership in Europe has been relatively secure since the early 1970s because both major political parties—or, to be more specific, the party in power at any given time—always have had compelling partisan incentives to stay the course. For the Tories, Europe has been valuable as a way of entrenching and expanding the market economy. While many in the party have distrusted Europe on a gut level or because of genuine fears about a loss of national sovereignty, the Conservative Party’s broad pro-European center has been held together by a calculated judgment that, on balance, British business gains from the various bargains struck in Brussels. For Labour, meanwhile, Europe has been appreciated since the early 1990s as a way of defending—and even extending—the domestic welfare state. While true socialists have much preferred that Britain take its left-wing policies “in-house” instead of relying on Europe to impose such policies from the outside, pragmatists within the party have accepted Europe as a means of shifting the needle of domestic politics leftward.

This basic political fact of Britain’s relationship with Europe—this Primat der Innenpolitik—was true when Macmillan proposed membership in the European Economic Community in 1961, and it remains true today. Those who value European integration as a symbolic statement of the country’s commitment to internationalism and even those who see Europe as an instrument for amplifying Britain’s voice on the world stage have always been an insignificant minority. Instead, the most successful arguments for integration have always been rooted in facets of Britain’s domestic politics. Pro-European sentiment has succeeded when it has been woven into the fabric of the two major political parties, when it has been shown to deliver concrete electoral gains and political advantage. Rhetoric aside, neither of the two major parties ever has cherished Europe in its own right and neither has seen Europe as something to be rated on its foreign-policy merits. Instead, each has had a self-interested electoral stake in protecting British membership in Europe.

All this means that Britain’s participation in the European project is highly susceptible to changes in the electoral calculus of the political parties. Europe will stop being attractive to mainstream Conservatives if it is seen as jeopardizing the health and vitality of Britain’s market economy. Labour will abandon its relatively recent Europhilic stance should Europe become a hindrance, rather than a help, towards sustaining a generous welfare state. Indeed, growing numbers of Conservatives already think that the EU is antimarket and that EU regulations stifle economic growth instead of promoting it. Several Cabinet ministers and the popular mayor of London, Boris Johnson, are campaigning for Brexit. In contrast, staunchly pro-European Conservatives are a rare breed. At the same time, revulsion at the EU’s treatment of debt-stricken Greece and opposition to the U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have demonstrated the enduring relevance of Old Labour’s anti-European politics. And faced with stubborn xenophobia in some quarters of Britain, Europe-wide rules on freedom of movement cause political embarrassment for politicians of all stripes. In short, neither party currently sees Europe as an unambiguous political asset. On the contrary, each has faced compelling incentives to harden their stance against Brussels.

Britain’s future in Europe is being decided not along the corridors of power in Brussels or even London, but on the streets of Britain when politicians go knocking on doors in search of votes. Policy towards Europe—including the very decision to hold a referendum on Brexit—has long been set by politicians whose primary concern is how their stance on Europe will play with key constituents, and by party leaders eager to keep their disparate electoral coalitions intact. This means that, even if the British people ultimately opt to remain within the EU, uncertainty will continue to plague cross-Channel relations. Simply put, British politics is too fluid to support a stable relationship with Europe right now; coalitions that were once reliably pro-European are now frayed, perhaps fatally so. Will resourceful leaders be successful at finding ways to exploit the European issue for electoral gain—either by building a new pro-European consensus, as they have in the past, or by playing on public antipathy towards Brussels, as has been the case in more recent years? Or will European policy be set by politicians who are content to follow public opinion rather than lead it? All that looks for sure is that Britain’s relationship with Europe will continue to be a hotly contested issue whatever the referendum’s result; the cut-and-thrust of domestic politics will all but guarantee it.

Peter Harris is an assistant professor of political science at Colorado State University. His Twitter handle is @ipeterharris.

Image: Flickr/BackBoris2012