It might look like plain sailing for those who want Britain to stay in the European Union. Polls show voters back the status quo by a fair margin. But the tide is flowing against the “Yes” camp ahead of a referendum that Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold before end-2017.
Anti-EU rhetoric risks being fuelled by a trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, being negotiated between the EU and the United States. The UK’s Trades Union Congress, which has 51 affiliated unions, is among those concerned in particular about a part of TTIP called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement.
This is supposed to spur trade by beefing up investor rights over overseas governments. But detractors say it will give multinationals too much clout, and curtail states’ ability to legislate on issues such as the environment or public health. True, negotiators work within the mandate given by EU countries, including Britain. But Brussels could still be blamed.
Left-leaning voters may find other reasons to vote “No”. The rough handling of Greece and continued austerity is one flashpoint. Another is unions’ anger at reports that Cameron might seek opt-outs of some regional employment legislation when he tries to renegotiate Britain’s EU relationship. Several have said their backing for EU membership may waver if Cameron wins concessions that undermine workers’ rights.
Right-wing voters also risk drifting into the “No” camp. Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate issues such as welfare and migration were never likely to tempt hard-core eurosceptics in his own Conservative party to vote “Yes”. But the sort of compromise solutions touted in diplomatic circles may fall short of what is needed to convince undecided voters. One idea is an EU-wide scheme under which migrants from other member states would only receive the sort of in-work benefits to which they were entitled at home. But this could only apply for months or a year at most, rather than permanently. This may fail to assuage those worried by immigration from other EU countries.
With so many undercurrents pulling towards the “No” camp, the In/Out referendum’s result no longer looks a foregone conclusion.