While many Americans seem to have been engulfed in the wake of the Donald Trump media sensation or are “Feeling the Bern” in support of surprise Democratic contender Bernie Sanders, a second very important decision to be made in 2016 now enters the closing stretch of debate. The potential exit of Great Britain from the European Union will be decided by a public referendum on June 23, 2016, when Brits vote to remain or leave the European project.
While this is a critical issue for many nations, it appears “Brexit” coverage has been squeezed out of view by the US media in the early part of 2016. This is troublesome because the outcome of this referendum significantly impacts the United States’ relationship with one of its closest and oldest allies. Because of the lack of media attention, Americans are less likely to understand the downside of Britain’s potential departure from the European Union. One could be inclined to think that the lack of worldwide debate and discussion on this issue is a problem for the Brits as well.
The lack of knowledge amongst the American public regarding the June referendum should be of greater concern for both sides of the Brexit debate. This is due to the fact that successfully framing the argument surrounding the future of the US-UK Special relationship for a Britain inside or outside of the EU has the potential to sway the outcome of a closely contested referendum.
While many Americans presently express little or no concern about the UK’s place in the European Union, it is rare to see the media, politicians and the public remain uncharacteristically quiet regarding an important, fast approaching referendum. Even Senator Bob Corker (R. TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has stated that despite the longstanding ties with the United Kingdom, “Congress isn’t really paying much attention” to the impending referendum. At a February 3 Senate hearing, the Brexit debate garnered one brief exchange before the committee moved on to the migration crisis, Vladimir Putin, Greece, and ISIL.
But why has there been uncharacteristically little coverage of the Brexit on the other side of the Atlantic? It is likely that the lack of coverage results from the ambiguity that continues to surround this issue on so many different political and economic levels. Let’s face it, the American media likes to be correct. American pundits like predictability, which allows them to endorse the outcome they can anticipate will play out. They prefer not to weigh in on issues when they cannot anticipate, or shape the American public’s reaction. Speculation on outcome of the Brexit debate remains just that because in the brief history of the fledgling European Union, no state has ever left on its own accord.
Finally on April 20, 2016 US President Barack Obama, in what is most likely his final visit to the UK as president, weighed in on the Brexit debate. His strong statement in support of Britain maintaining its role inside the EU was presented alongside Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and was openly welcomed by the “Remain” campaign. Supporters of the “Leave” campaign have responded to Obama’s remarks by reiterating the fact that Brits should not buy into the “politics of fear” that the “Remain” campaign is built upon.
So while Obama’s statements alongside Cameron are still fresh, let’s elevate the Brexit to a proper level of media attention in the United States. We can only hope that as US Presidential primaries begin winding down with the exit of remaining Republican contenders Ted Cruz and John Kasich, the US media will seize the opportunity to give the Brexit debate the attention it deserves. Because no matter the outcome in the UK on June 23, remaining uncharacteristically quiet on the Brexit debate diminishes the actual and perceived importance of US interests in Europe as a whole.
Kelsey Fraser is an American ex-pat currently living and working in Germany. She has a Masters in Transatlantic Relations from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and spends most of her time reading about human rights, European history, and thinking about when is the appropriate time for her next cup of coffee. Twitter handle @klfraser7.