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Fear of fissiparous forces

Fear of fissiparous forces

OMFIF poll points to disintegration danger 

by David Marsh in London

Tue 5 Apr 2016

One of the most important factors favouring the ‘remain’ campaign in the ‘in-out’ poll on 23 June is the fear that, should the UK leave, the rest of the European Union might be prone to disintegration. This would unhinge Europe’s economic and political stability and, as a result of the UK’s strong trade and investment ties and the simple realities of geography, damage British wealth and welfare – the opposite of what a ‘Brexit’ vote is supposed to achieve.

Many Britons might well have qualms in principle about deciding to stay within a grouping seen as so unstable that the UK’s departure might prompt its collapse. But the fear of fissiparous forces after a EU break-up may persuade many voters that they should restrain their instinctive wish to leave an entity they do not really like, and instead give it a new lease of life by staying in (at least for a few years, ahead of a possible new referendum if results are unsatisfactory).

This viewpoint – along with the more general consideration that Britain would be better off inside than outside the EU – was born out by a poll of the OMFIF advisory board carried out in March, the findings of which are contained in the OMFIF Bulletin for April.

We put two questions, regarding Britain’s own future inside or outside the EU, and with regard to the effect on the rest of the EU. An overwhelming majority of respondents – 82% – said Britain would be safer, more secure and more prosperous inside the EU. Just 13% said it would be better off outside. On the second question, opinion was more divided: 49% of participants said a British exit would promote disintegration, 22% thought it would encourage integration, while 29% foresaw neither outcome. Of the 170 members of the advisory board, 45 took part in the poll.

Among those commenting individually, Stuart Mackintosh, executive director of the Washington-based Group of Thirty think tank, said, ‘You cannot go back to the time when Britain was great, rather than middling. Outside Europe Britain would be a politically and diplomatically smaller country, less secure, less prosperous, less influential.’

Reginald Dale, director of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Europe Program, wrote, ‘Brexit would have a disruptive effect on other weaker members of the EU but would encourage, over time, closer integration inside a hard core composed of euro members (though not necessarily all the current euro members). This will in fact happen anyway, even if Britain remains in the EU.’

Athanasios Orphanides, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a former governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus, said, ‘The rest of the EU is disintegrating anyway and the process will likely continue regardless of whether the UK stays in or not. Brexit could serve as a wake-up call however. If so, the odds that the rest of the EU will change course away from its current path of certain collapse will improve as a result of Brexit.’

Boyd McCleary, a former UK High Commissioner to Malaysia, took a bleaker view, opining, ‘Brexit is unlikely to promote integration. The French and some other member states would try to use it as a means of drawing the residual 27 closer together. But others could be tempted to follow Britain’s suit, or at least to use the opportunity to argue for more substantial reform of the institutions.’

The message is that the repercussions of a British exit would not be confined to the UK but would ripple out to the rest of Europe and beyond, with results that might take years to become clear.

David Marsh is Managing Director at OMFIF. This is No.25 in the series.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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