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The Role of Political Leaders: A Help or a Hindrance to the Remain Campaign?

The recent G7 summit in Ise-Shima, Japan brought together seven leaders from the world’s strongest economies, four of which are members of the European Union. In fact, the European Union has become such an intrinsic part of international discourse surrounding world issues that, since 1977, both the President of the European Commission and the European Council have been invited to join these discussions. This seems apt given the European Union has the largest nominal GDP in the world according to the World Bank and that four of its nations, France, Germany, Italy and the UK are amongst the eight most economically powerful nations in the world according to the same GDP standard.

On the agenda for the summit agenda global issues such as climate change, global health, foreign policy and the state of the global economy. Despite not being on the agenda and not forming a part of discussions, the debate surrounding Brexit dominated much of the media’s interest in the event, with UK voters especially looking to world leaders as to their opinion on the British referendum to be held later this month. Both David Cameron’s and François Hollande’s press conferences were not subject to questions about the policies emanating from the summit but rather to questions about the state of the European Union should Brexit leave and the preparations, if any, EU countries are making in case of a leave majority.

All G7 leaders announced their support for Britain to remain in the UK and briefly referenced it in the communiqué stating, “A UK exit from the EU would reverse the trend towards greater global trade and investment, and the jobs they create, and is a further serious risk to growth”. The support from these political leaders comes shortly after comments made by Barack Obama in late April, who candidly stated that Britain would be at the “back of the queue” in any trade talks. This was in reference to the European Union, which is currently in the process of establishing two separate trade agreements with both the US and Canada, entitled the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) respectively. The statements of the current US President are extremely powerful through their influence on UK voters, given his status as leader of one of the world’s largest economies, second only to that of the EU, as well as leader of the free world. President of Japan, Shinzō Abe has also recently stated, “A vote to leave would make the UK a less attractive destination for Japanese investment”, injecting into the debate the view of a second country which is independent to the EU and thus independent to any bias that may arise from being a member state.

The ripples initiated by such discussions are bound to have affects on voters and institutions alike, which are both equally affected by such a change within the global make-up. There is now a fear emanating from institutions who are apprehensive of the adverse effects on the global economy that a Brexit may have. Barack Obama was heavily accused of fear mongering by some of the leading voices of the leave campaign such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. The US Federal Reserve, however, has recently stated the the British referendum is a major consideration as to whether it will increase interest rates. Positive domestic conditions within the US were considered along with events in the global economy which could prevent this, such as Britain leaving the EU. This signals that President Obama’s comment were not founded upon arbitrary reckoning, but rather on clear repercussions that the disintegration of the Union could have upon the global economy.

The US Federal Reserve is not alone in the uncertainties that it has made clear to UK voters. Both the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have also stated that the UK would be in a worse and less desirable economic condition should they leave the EU. Doubt also emanates from national soil, after the Bank of England provided a stark warning that a Brexit could give rise to a recession. Despite this support for Cameron and the UK government, the question remains as to whether voters are influenced by these forecasts and predictions.

The insertion of these comments by political leaders into the Brexit debate are representative of the increasing impact that national events are having on the global landscape and, thus, the need for leaders to express their government’s perspective. With the undeniable trend of globalisation that is recurring across the world, it is now impossible to think of regional or even national events as isolated and incapable of having consequential affects on other regions. This is inherent in many of the global challenges of today, for example the refugee crisis in Europe has necessitated a global weigh-in, as we saw in the discussions of the G7 summit in Japan. The G20 summit last year in Antalya, Turkey was dominated by discussions on how to counter global terrorism following the attacks in Paris. Furthermore, the combination of the increasing threat of nations such as North Korea, and the rising tensions between Russia and the West, means that this is now a global topic of discussion, rather than an isolated conversation between concerned nations. In regards to the global economy, the past year has been a tumultuous one with disintegrating communication between OPEC countries leading to rapidly decreasing oil prices, along with the Chinese stock market crash and volatile commodity prices. These impacts on the global economy again forces nations to communicate and manage the effects of internationalisation. Even climate change has forced nations to become even closer, for example the signing of the historic Paris Agreement at COP21, which created a unified approach to tackling the impending threat of rising global temperatures.

Is it therefore impossible to think of a completely independent, self-governing, self-regulating Britain? The social, political and economic challenges that threaten the global equilibrium can only be confronted by a better connected world. Britain’s departure from the EU would form yet another crack within the global make-up of governance and would create another obstacle for global discourse to overcome in order to efficiently challenge global issues. This supports the voices of global leaders, who could be adversely affected by events that challenge the global landscape.

So, what are the potential effects of these comments and beliefs being expressed by political leaders on UK citizens? Many are likely to be influenced by the status of political leaders who are at the pinnacle of the world’s strongest nations and see these comments as further confirmation of their beliefs. They may also find refuge in the security that the UK will possess should it remain part of the European network. However, for others it will likely chime with their distrust of the institutionalism and EU federalisation that Britain’s union with the EU represents. Leave voters are motivated by two factors, the first being UK sovereignty over its laws and policies, which folds into the second factor, immigration. The comments made by political leaders have likely won the economic argument but have not touched upon the crux of the opposition to Britain’s membership. Their comments have therefore had little influence on leave voters as they do not target the issues of immigration and British sovereignty, which are their principal motives for choosing to leave the EU.

The role that leaders play in the outcome of global events is hard to predict. Some may see the viewpoints of some, especially Obama and Abe, as valuable insights into future repercussions, especially given their independence from EU-partiality. The comments of European leaders such as Angela Merkel and François Hollande, however, may hold less value given their obvious bias to remain in the EU. The traction that the remain campaign has experienced is evidence that voters are not necessarily swayed by the voices of global leaders and institutions. One of the pillars on which the entire leave campaign rests, is the necessity for sovereignty of Britain over EU law. The involvement of external perspectives is only a testament of the leave campaign’s reasoning that the UK is losing its national identity to the global harmonisation of values and shared principles. For those who are currently for Britain to remain in the UK, the peripheral perspectives that global leaders and institutions occupy come as confirmation that the UK can not longer be considered an isolated entity but rather a pivotal player in a world whose inter-connectivity and global reliance is seen as beneficial in resolving world issues.

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