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Are Grexit and Brexit the media’s favourite new buzz words?

July 17th, 2015 - Posted by Doireann Clabby in Media Monitoring

When David Cameron promised a referendum on Britain's place in the European Union two years ago, few politicians or business leaders seriously believed the UK electorate would vote to leave the largest trading bloc on the planet and an organisation it has been a member of since 1973.

In 2013, when the Prime Minister first said that if re-elected, a Conservative government would call a vote on whether to leave the European Union, the opinion polls showed a steep decline in support for Brexit.  Support had peaked the previous year at 56% with 30% in favour of remaining.

Shortly after this year's general election, polls showed that 43% wanted to stay in with 36% preferring to leave.  When asked how they would vote if Britain manages to renegotiate the terms of its membership, the proportion wanting to stay rose to more than 50%.

But if a week is a long time in politics, two months is an age in international affairs.  Since Cameron was returned to Downing Street – neutering UKIP's surge along the way – the Greek debt crisis has engulfed both the EU and the British debate on continued membership.

While there has not been a major poll on continued British membership since the election, the media has once again started to question both whether the UK should remain an EU member and what the effects of Brexit would be.  The catalyst for this renewed interest – bearing in mind that a referendum is unlikely before late 2016 – has been Greece's near bankruptcy and the risk of a so-called Grexit.

LexisNexis's Media Tracker shows that while there has been a steady rise in articles discussing British membership since 2012, the number published accelerated when Grexit started to become a serious possibility towards the back end of 2014.  In April, Brexit featured in close to 100 articles, while in May the figure had jumped to more than 200 – just as more than 400 focused on the possibility of Greece being forced out of the Eurozone.

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The debate on the merits of continued British membership of the EU has barely started.  The membership of the 'yes' and 'no' camps is already fairly clear, with business leaders and opposition parties broadly in favour of continued membership and the Tory party's Eurosceptic wing, UKIP and much of the right-wing press backing Brexit.

But the effect of the Greek crisis on the UK debate and, indeed, whether the Mediterranean state will be able to stay in the euro even after the third bailout which appears to have been agreed this week, cannot yet be quantified.  Until the Greek question exploded, David Cameron had been doing the rounds of his fellow leaders in an attempt to persuade them of the need to renegotiate the terms of Britain's membership in order to secure a 'yes' vote.

Now, with the euro's shortcomings dominating the headlines, concern about a perceived lack of democratic accountability at the heart of Europe and disquiet in some quarters about the treatment of Greece by Germany and other rich northern states, the debate about whether the UK should stay or leave is only likely to grow.

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