The UK decides – but will it follow its heart or head?

WE Brits don’t take kindly to a referendum  it's a foreign sort of thing.

And, unlike a general election, where there’s clear blue – or socialist red – water between the combatants, plebiscites, like the acrimonious tussle between the Remainers and Leavers over the UK’s membership of the European Union, tend to confuse an audience that’s traditionally conservative (with a lower-case ‘c’).
But, cutting through the flimflam, back-stabbing and creative accountancy spinning highly elasticated ‘facts’, the only certainty – and, for technical, parliamentary reasons even that’s not an absolute given – is that Britain will make a life-changing decision on June 23.
Because, either way, the nation of cream teas, driving on the wrong side of the road and coppers with pointy hats will never be quite the same, just as it wasn’t 41 years ago when the good folk of the sceptred isles were first tasked about staying in Club Europa, then arcanely the European Economic Community.
Back in 1975, however, Brits were clueless about Brussels’ Machiavellian intents. We naively imagined this was just a freemasonry of commerce, whereby goods, capital, services and people could voyage through what was then 12 member states, like going on our hols to the Costa Brava.
Nobody mentioned surrendering sovereignty or kowtowing to the unending diktats of Europrats, those faceless Oompa-Lumpas who did the bidding of that mysterious cabal dubbed ‘The Commission’, all of whom hid behind a vague veneer of democracy provided by the elected, if impotent, European parliament.
And never in our wildest nightmares did we imagine this was merely a launch pad to achieving the puppet-masters’ grand project of a United States of Europe, a federation of fairness, where all citizens were equal, from Gavdos to Galway.
Just a pity, then, it’s transpired that the EU pipedream mutated into something more Orwellian than Utopian, where decisions are reduced to cobbling together fudged consensus between the now 28 competing states.
Such obtuseness is not the UK’s way. After all, Britain didn’t build an empire spanning nearly half the world by having a friendly tête-à-tête with the Frenchies and suggesting, ‘Here’s a bon idea, Pierre: you take Martinique and we’ll have India.’
Now, with the polls ostensibly deadlocked – and a large tranche of voters still undecided – the only unanimity between the opposing camps is that the race will go to the wire on June 23.
Still, nothing has consumed, obsessed or bored witless the great British public as being  forced to ruminate on an avalanche of bitterly-contested ‘facts’, very much reflecting Mark Twain’s observation, ‘There are lies, damned lies and statistics’.
The referendum’s implications will also impact massively elsewhere, especially on the EU, where Germany is desperate for a Remain victory so it can continue to rely on a senior partner, wedded to laissez-faire economics if not the Euro, to counter the anti-competitive statism of France.
Besides, Europhiles dread a Brexit sending a signal to other recalcitrant members – and there are plenty – who might be tempted to copycat Britain and send the entire, synthetic EU edifice crashing down.
Barack Obama fears this, too, and so waded in with his two-cent’s worth, saying the UK should stay put – which, ironically, backfired in the same way most things this US President has done, and boosted the Leave campaign. The Anglo awkward squad, you see, doesn’t take kindly to outsiders telling them what to do, which is precisely the reason for the referendum.
Israel has diplomatically held its counsel, although it’s no secret the Jewish state – whose major trading partner is Europe – would be hugely relieved to see British sanity continue prevailing at the heart of Europe, particularly as Prime Minister David Cameron is one of the bloc’s few, pro-Israel advocates.
This viewpoint largely reflects the majority of Britain’s 300,000-strong Jewish community, who, according to a recent survey, are 49% in favor of Remain, 34% pro-Brexit, the rest as yet undecided. Notably, its 18/30s are the staunchest supporters of the status quo and the most informed about the in-out impact than any other minority group.
However, out of a population of 63 million, Anglo-Jewry represents an electoral pinprick. Yet, like every other citizen, they are being asked to decide on a heart or head dilemma.
Emotionally, the nation’s gut instinct is to quit the Big Brother EU, with its clunking bureaucracy, control-freak rules, lack of accountability, iffy democracy and reliance on infernal compromise.
Plus, there’s that most inflammatory of issues: immigration, the curbing of which is the key platform of the Leave campaign.
The most recent, net figure for incomers to the UK is around 330,000, over half of whom arrived from EU countries and nowhere near the tens of thousands Cameron promised when he became premier in 2010.
This, claim the Leavers, puts an intolerable strain on Britain’s social provisions – the health service, schools, welfare benefits, et al – and is unsustainable. Plus, there is the fear factor of Turkey joining the club and immigration rocketing.
Conversely, the head says something else.
Cameron contends the concessions he won from the EU – notably boosting British sovereignty, an opt-out from ‘ever-closer union’ and a brake on welfare largess to new migrants – underpin UK independence.
And, even if the nation votes Brexit, he says, we’ll still trade with Europe – the so-called Norwegian solution – be required to play by Brussels’ rules and accede to the free movement of people, one of the bloc’s founding principles.
Furthermore, forsaking full membership of the EU club and exposure to half-a-billion continental consumers is a monumental risk, jeopardizing future prosperity.
That’s not to say, too, that leaving wouldn’t be a massive leap of faith, a plunge in the value of sterling, a likely two-year recession and the need to negotiate separate deals with each of the 27 remaining EU states.
And, as regards foreboding over 75 million Turks suddenly landing at Dover or Heathrow, that’s ‘a million miles away’, if ever, insists Chancellor George Osborne.
Personally, I’ll wager Britain – however reluctantly – remains in the EU. And, if the whole omnishambles crumbles, as many predict it will sooner or later, with the good, old £ and a long history of mercantile prowess, we’ll keep calm and carry on.