Does the Conservative Party support Brexit?

Brexit and Britain's special role in the EU

Nicholas Bukovec

studied political science, history and economics in Vienna, Dublin and Limerick. From 1999 to 2011 he was editor of the Austrian daily Kurier in Vienna. Since 2011 he has been working from Dublin as a freelance journalist and for an online marketing platform.

Pro or contra? For a long time the pros and cons of the British population were roughly in balance until the decision in favor of Brexit was narrowly made on June 23. Here is an overview of the most important players in the debate and their positions on Brexit.

Who says what about Brexit? - Collage (& copy picture alliance / dpa / Bildagentur-online / AP Photo)

David Cameron

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in February 2016 (& copy picture alliance / AP Photo)

Just over a year ago, in May 2015, David Cameron led the Tories to historic success. His party won an absolute majority in the British general election. Nevertheless, he could be forced to resign as head of government and party in just a few weeks - if the British vote for Brexit on June 23 and thus against Cameron's goal of remaining in the EU. It was Cameron himself who brought the idea of ​​a referendum into play more than three years ago in order to silence the many voices critical of the EU in his party. At first, Cameron was publicly very critical of the EU. Without major concessions on the part of the EU partners, he will not be able to recommend that the British remain in the EU.

At the EU summit in February of this year, the EU partners did little to accommodate Cameron. Among other things, they allowed Great Britain to cut the social benefits of EU foreigners for seven years - a compromise to the 13 years demanded by Cameron. They allowed a say (instead of the required veto right) in decisions in the Eurozone and confirmed that Great Britain is not obliged to further political integration. Overall, a partial success for Cameron, whose campaign promises and demands went even further. Since then, Cameron has been fighting with all his might to stay in the EU: Brexit would endanger the security of the country, weaken Great Britain on the international stage and damage the economy. His own government team could not convince Cameron without exception: Several ministers of the Tory government and other prominent party members are campaigning for Brexit. Political observers see the conservatives as more divided than ever on the European question.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson on election tour in Ipswich (& copy picture alliance / empics)

The former mayor of London is arguably the most colorful and popular representative of Brexit supporters. For a long time, the ambitious former Brussels correspondent for the conservative daily The Daily Telegraph kept a low profile on the Brexit issue. When Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out clearly against Brexit after the EU summit in February, Johnson, who, like Cameron, belongs to the conservative Tories, joined the EU opponents. From the point of view of many British commentators, he did this because he wanted to weaken Cameron and inherit him as party leader and prime minister. In his anti-EU campaign, the man with the striking blond hair does not shy away from verbal exaggeration and provocation. He compared the goals of the EU with those of Hitler and Napoleon. They all wanted to turn Europe into a "superstate", Johnson complained. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Johnson attacked the German government sharply: The euro had destroyed Italy's motor industry "as the Germans intended". From the point of view of many political observers, Johnson has nothing to lose with his anti-EU course: Even if the British vote against Brexit, Cameron Johnson would probably have to revalue within the party as a signal of reconciliation vis-à-vis the large EU-critical wing of the Tories.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn voted in 1975 to leave the European Economic Community, today he speaks out against Brexit (& copy picture-alliance, empics)

The head of the opposition Labor Party is campaigning to stay in the EU. This is a guarantee that the rights of British workers will be respected, said Corbyn. However, Corbyn is not a great friend of the EU. In June of last year, he had not wanted to speak out against Brexit. In an earlier British referendum in 1975, Corbyn voted to leave what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). The Labor leader, who is on the far left, addresses many British people who have nothing to do with the conservative David Cameron and his Tories. Therefore, Corbyn's pro-EU stance in the referendum could tip the balance in favor of EU supporters, say many commentators.

Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage from UKIP speaks out in favor of leaving the EU (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

The head of the right-wing populist and Europe-critical Party for the Independence of the United Kingdom (UKIP) has been fighting for years to leave the EU - as a member of the European Parliament, of which he has been a member since 1999. Farage, who is married to a German, joined the Tories while at school. However, he left this when the Conservative government under the then Prime Minister John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. UKIP's political demands and goals, for example on the subject of immigration, go too far for many British people who are critical of the EU. Opponents accuse Farage of playing with fears. His support for Brexit could ultimately do more harm than good to the bipartisan drive to leave the EU, some commentators believe.

The British media

The British newspaper spectrum from The Sun to the Financial Times (& copy picture alliance / Bildagentur-online)

The largely right-wing and conservative British daily newspapers have mobilized massively against remaining in the EU in recent months. The spearheads are The Sun, Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, who attack the "Eurocrats" in Brussels almost every day with comments, analyzes and columns. The equally influential conservative The Times and The Sunday Times, which, like The Sun, belong to Rupert Murdoch's media empire, argue comparatively cautious and balanced. The EU advocates receive journalistic support the most from the left-wing liberal daily newspapers The Guardian and The Independent and from the economically liberal Financial Times. The traditional BBC is committed to neutrality. However, many EU opponents accuse the broadcaster of supporting Prime Minister Cameron's pro-EU course with its type of reporting, the selection of interview partners and studies on the subject of Brexit.

Entrepreneur / employer

CBI director Carolyn Fairbairn (& copy picture-alliance, empics)

British entrepreneurs are divided on the Brexit issue. According to a survey by the UK Chamber of Commerce in April, only a slight majority of its members are in favor of remaining in the EU. Especially among the smaller companies that only supply the British market and do not export, many are in favor of leaving the EU. "The Brussels bureaucracy is holding back every single one of the 5.4 million British businesses," said an open letter signed by 300 business people critical of the EU and published in mid-May in the conservative daily "The Telegraph". The members of the Association of British Industries (CBI), on the other hand, to which mainly larger companies belong, were 80 percent against Brexit in a survey in March. An exit from the European Union would plunge the British economy into years of uncertainty because Britain would have to negotiate new trade agreements with its former EU partners, warned CBI Director General Carolyn Fairbairn.


Posters for the opening day of the TUC Congress in Brighton (& copy picture-alliance, empics)

The British trade union confederation TUC (Trades Union Congress) has clearly opposed Brexit. Exiting the EU would endanger four million jobs, especially in the export industry, warned TUC representative Owen Tudor in an interview with the dpa news agency. The business location would become less attractive if Great Britain lost its access to the domestic market. Workers 'representatives also fear that workers' rights will be undermined if Great Britain leaves the EU. Up to a million British employees would have to work longer after a Brexit, the TUC warned. "Brexit advocates make no secret of the fact that they want to lift working time restrictions. If they get their way, the 48-hour limit will be a thing of the past and your boss will be able to force you into 60 or 70 hours working week, "said TUC Secretary General Frances O'Grady.

The Queen

Queen Elizabeth II. - still neutral in political matters (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The Sun headlines with "Queen backs Brexit" (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)
The British royal family has traditionally been neutral on political issues. So there was great excitement when the EU-critical daily The Sun opened with the headline "Queen supports Brexit" in March. At a lunch with then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Queen Elizabeth II allegedly claimed in 2011 that the EU was moving in the wrong direction, the Sun quoted an anonymous source from Buckingham Palace. He immediately denied that the monarch would remain neutral as in the past 63 years. Clegg, a vehement EU supporter, also criticized the report as "nonsense". The royal family officially complained to the British media regulator Ipso. This condemned the Sun's headline as "misleading".

The campaigns

Britain Stronger in Europe
Poster of the "Britain Stronger in Europe" campaign (& copy picture-alliance, empics)

"Britain Stronger in Europe" is the official campaign for Britain to remain in the EU. It was founded in October by Labor politician Will Straw and is led by Stuart Rose, former chairman of the board of directors of the retail company Marks & Spencer. At the start of the campaign, Rose said the EU was not perfect, but staying in it was "the patriotic course for Britain". Britain Stronger in Europe was the only one to apply to the UK Electoral Commission for official campaign status, which it received in April. Campaigns declared by the election commission to be a "lead campaign" are allowed to spend a total of seven million pounds (approx. 8.91 million euros) and are entitled to a public subsidy from tax revenues of 600,000 pounds (approx. 760,000 euros) for mail advertising and television broadcasts. The expenditure of the other registered campaigns, however, is limited to a maximum of 700,000 pounds (approx. 891,000 euros).

The campaign advertises the economic disadvantages that an exit from the EU would have for Great Britain. The UK needs to stay in the EU to protect thousands of UK businesses and jobs, campaign leader Stuart Rose told the International Business Times. According to the campaign's website, British science and the health system would also currently benefit from EU funding, which would then no longer apply. In addition, EU membership protects workers' rights and the rights of women.

Supporters and opponents:
Behind the campaign are representatives of various political parties: the Conservative Party (Damian Green, Richard Benyon) and Labor Party (Chuka Umunna, Wayne David), the Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg, Tom Brake) and the Green Party (Caroline Lucas). Former Prime Ministers Sir John Major, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have also supported Britain Stronger in Europe. In the different parts of the country, the campaign has formed its own arms with "Scotland Stronger in Europe", "NI Stronger in Europe" and "Wales Stronger in Europe". So far, the campaign has raised the equivalent of 10.12 million euros in donations and is thus well ahead of the other Remain campaigns (see table).

Other campaigns include Labor In for Britain. The group is led by Labor MP Alan Johnson and is also supported by party leader Jeremy Corbyn. 210 Labor MPs agreed to support her last autumn. The "Conservatives In" campaign launched by David Cameron has attracted more than 170 Conservative MPs. The Liberal Democrats have rallied behind the "Lib Dems Europe Campaign". The Scottish ruling party Scottish National Party (SNP) has also launched its own campaign. Beyond the political spectrum, other groups are also campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU: including the pro-European groups "Scientists for EU", "European Movement" and "Business for New Europe". Vote leave
Poster of the "Vote Leave" campaign (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The supporters of "Brexit" have gathered under the guise of the "Vote Leave" campaign. The bipartisan group prevailed in April as an official campaign against its competitors "Grassroots Out" and "Leave.EU".

"Vote Leave" criticizes Great Britain paying too high membership fees to the EU. Campaign supporters want to regain full sovereignty over UK borders in order to reduce migration to the UK as it has become a burden on public institutions such as the health system and schools. The representatives of countries in the euro zone in the European Parliament are in the majority and are thus pushing through political decisions against Great Britain's interests. In addition, the regulation of the EU is harmful to the British economy.

Supporters and opponents:
Leading figures from Vote Leave are on the side of the Conservative Party Michael Gove and the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Some Labor MPs - such as Gisela Stuart and Graham Stringer - are among their supporters. UKIP representatives are also behind the campaign, while party leader Nigel Farage is campaigning for the British vote for a “no” to the EU with the opponent “Grassroots Out”. Some representatives of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are also behind Vote Leave. In addition, the campaign is supported by various other groups: On the one hand, there are the campaigns of the two major British parties: the "Conservatives for Britain" founded by the Conservative MP Steve Baker and the "Labor Leave" campaign, in which the few Brexit parties are involved - Labor advocates gather together. On the other hand, there are groups outside the party, including "Business for Britain", "Farmers for Britain", "Muslims for Britain" as well as "Christians for Britain" and "Out and Proud".

Donate the campaigns

According to the latest figures from the election commission on May 28, the Vote Leave campaign has received fewer donations (equivalent to EUR 7.84 million) than the other side's official campaign, "Britain Stronger in Europe" (EUR 10.12 million). The election commission has so far issued figures for two election campaign phases: In the first phase from February 1 to April 21, Britain Stronger in Europe received far more donations (EUR 8.79 million) than Vote Leave (EUR 3.56 million). ; In the second shorter phase from April 22nd to May 12th, Vote Leave overtook its pro-European competitors and, with 4.28 million euros in donations, took more than three times as much as Britain Stronger in Europe in the same period (1.33 million euros) . Euro) a. If you add up all the campaigns recorded by the electoral commission, there is an advantage on the part of EU critics over EU supporters: the former have recorded a total of 3.7 million euros more since February.

Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama during a press conference at the EU-US summit in Lisbon 2010. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Numerous high-ranking Western politicians have warned of the consequences of Brexit. US President Barack Obama probably had the most impact. At the end of April, on a visit to London, he urged the British to remain in the EU. "The US and the world still need your [Great Britain's] increased influence - also within Europe," he wrote in a guest article in the EU-critical daily The Daily Telegraph. The EU is not reducing British influence, it is increasing it. Obama's words did not go down well with British EU opponents. The influence of the US government is "outrageous", said the former London Mayor Boris Johnson. Conservative Attorney General Dominic Raab was referring to David Cameron when he said, "Barack Obama did an old friend a political favor." Many commentators, including those who are critical of the EU, also disagreed: It is right that important allies express their opinion on such a far-reaching decision by the British.