The fight of the year
Finally, the moment of truth has come. On Thursday 23 June, the British people will decide in a referendum whether they want to remain in the European Union or leave and go it alone.
After what seems like years of campaigning — in fact, the official campaign didn't start until 15 April — a decision will be made that both sides agree will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the United Kingdom.
That, however, is about all the two sides agree on, in a campaign that was overshadowed by the tragic death last Thursday of Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox.
In many ways, the referendum battle has reminded me of the classic third and final fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in October 1975. Ali, of course, died at the beginning of June. Frazier died in 2011.
The "Thrilla in Manila" was a brutal, hurtful, spiteful battle that swung this way and then that way, without either boxer being able to land the killer punch. Then, dramatically, Frazier's team stopped its man from going out to face the final, 15th round.
In the UK's referendum battle, neither side will pull out at the last minute, and to date there have been no fisticuffs in Parliament. Instead, the blows have been verbal, not least between politicians on either side of the debate within the ruling Conservative Party.
Prime Minister David Cameron (who wants Britain to remain in the EU) and Conservative opponents such as Boris Johnson have in effect called each other liars during the campaign. All very amusing for non-Conservatives, but hardly edifying.
For those of you who haven't been following the referendum campaign closely, here is my referee's scorecard on the three key issues in the debate:
- The economy. This argument has been clearly won by the "Remain" campaign. Virtually all serious experts (yes, that includes economists) believe Britain would be worse off outside the EU.
- Immigration. The "Leave" campaign has narrowly won this argument. It is clearly the case that Britain cannot control immigration while being an EU member. (On the other hand, it is highly doubftul whether Britain could control immigration outside the EU if it wants to retain unfettered access to the single market.)
- Sovereignty. This argument has been a draw. The Leave campaign has argued that the key issue is retaking control of their country. The Remain campaign has argued that pooled sovereignty and working together with EU partners is in the UK's best interests.
No wonder the opinion polls (see here) suggest that it will be a neck-and-neck decision. My hope is that it will be a win for Remain. But the result is likely to be mighty close, and the fight could still go either way.
Seconds out, round 15...
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