David Cameron's promise to renegotiate the terms of British membership and organise an in/out referendum rested on a double gamble. The first one was that he would achieve a successful negotiation in Brussels, which he made possible by watering down his demands and relying on his partners' good will. The second is a more challenging one, which is to convince a majority of British voters to support staying in the EU. This is made particularly difficult by the long-standing anti-EU political culture in the UK, the divisions in the Conservative Party and an underlying crisis of British democracy, which finds expression in the rejection of the political elites, the rise of populist parties (UKIP) and the strains in the union between the component nations of the UK. This makes the outcome of the referendum, with massive consequences in case of a negative vote, hard to predict.
Pauline Schnapper is professor of British Studies at the Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle University and a former fellow of the Institut Universitaire de France. She is the author (with David Baker) of Britain and the Crisis of the European Union, 2015, Palgrave Macmillan.