There has been much ado lately about the eventual possibility of the United Kingdom bowing out of the European Union, and last summer, British Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that his government may be considering holding a national referendum on the subject in the not too distant future. Apparently, Cameron’s real end game with the idea is to win back to British sovereignty certain powers now administered through EU cooperation rules, but he may have gotten the “Brexit” ball rolling a little faster than he intended. For months, the government has been delaying the “big Europe speech” he’s meant to give to thoroughly explain the whole thing, and it’s finally slated to happen in mid-January:
But I understand that Cameron now does know what he wants to say. He will commit to keeping Britain in the single market, rejecting the calls by many in his party for a Swiss-style free trade agreement. He’ll even make the case for expanding the single market into other areas and — possibly — giving Brussels more authority to enforce its rules. This, however, will mean that most of the irritations of EU membership (including those pesky directives) will remain. There’ll be no relief for ministers who feel emasculated by EU procurement rules, no escape from regulations aimed at the heart of the City of London. Britain will only be able to open up its markets to the new economies of the east at a pace set by Brussels. This is, under Cameron’s plan, the price of being part of the world’s largest single market. …
But most things outside the single market and foreign-policy co-operation are up for consideration. Regional spending and the working time directive are two early candidates for repatriation.
Next, the timing. The pledge to renegotiate would be included in a 2015 Tory manifesto, and if they won the election outright that year, the process would start soon afterwards. Cameron will say that when the renegotiation is complete, probably around 2018, he’ll put the results to the British people. We’ll be able to vote to stay in on the new terms — or leave. Cameron plans to campaign for staying in, and is confident of victory. The idea of an exit, he thinks, would panic business.
And he’s probably right — businesses evidently would panic, as UK business leaders have just indicated in an open letter:
Prime Minister David Cameron will damage Britain’s fragile economy if he demands major changes that could threaten the country’s relationship with the European Union, business leaders said on Wednesday.
In an open letter, the heads of some of Britain’s biggest companies said Britain can’t afford to quit a market of 500 million people that buys half of its exports.
Other countries in the 27-nation bloc would probably reject Cameron’s attempts to claw back powers from Brussels, isolating the country from its biggest trading partner, they said.
“We must be very careful not to call for a wholesale renegotiation of our EU membership, which would almost certainly be rejected,” they wrote in a letter to the Financial Times.
The problem for Cameron’s agenda, however, is that he has already pretty much given away the fact that he’s not really willing to go through with a British adieu (as we have been saying on this side of the pond lately, it’s no good taking a hostage you’re not willing to shoot). The lack of teeth to the threat will mean that at least a few other EU members will almost certainly vote against Britain being awarded what they see as special privileges. Cameron reportedly believes that he will have heavy-hitter Germany’s support, but all it takes is one:
Ireland takes over the role of the EU’s six month rotating presidency this week at a time when the eurozone crisis has subsided but the question over a “Brexit”, or British exit from membership, is now openly debated in European capitals.
In a setback for the British government, Eamon Gilmore, the Irish deputy prime minister, made it clear that Ireland, traditionally a close European ally for Britain, would not support David Cameron’s call for powers to be repatriated from the EU to Westminster.
“The principal terms of membership, I think have to be the same for all member states. There are of course arrangements that member states make from time to time in relation to specific issues… but in terms of the core conditions of membership I think it is important that they are the same for all,” he said.
Meanwhile, the idea of Britain legitimately getting the hell out of EU-dodge is gaining in steam and popularity, and maybe even enough to put in a showing by the time the referendum would roll around if the EU keeps on flailing. The Obama administration is not at all pleased with the situation, and senior administration official is making it clear that Washington does not want Britain to call it quits:
The intervention by US assistant secretary for Europe Philip Gordon came as it was reported David Cameron is planning an “in or out” referendum for 2018.
Mr Gordon said: “We have a growing relationship with the EU, which has an increasing voice in the world, and we want to see a strong British voice in it. That is in America’s interests. We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it.
“Britain has been such a special partner of the US. It shares our values, our interests and has significant resources to bring to the table. More than most, its voice in the EU is essential and critical to the US.” But he added: “Referendums have often turned countries inward.”
I’m sure the White House certainly would be against a British withdrawal, because of the at least temporary panic/recession/uncertainty that doing so would almost certainly cause. Obama views the European debt crisis as a big hindrance to the United States’ economy and likely has no desire to risk the status quo, thank you very much — not to mention that he evidently has zero qualms with big-government collectivism — but I have to say, I’m feeling some major sympathy for these “Brexiters.” The fact that these EU countries are actually discussing a eurozone super-state with tax-and-spend powers is nothing short of terrifying. As Margaret Thatcher once said, the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money, and I think that’s what this whole drive to “go global” is all about: Certain countries have run out of their own money through their own spending-happy folly, and now they’re going for a bigger pool from which to draw.
Addendum: Shots. Fired.
“The Obama administration now thinks the U.K. should be subservient to Brussels rule in many areas, just so the U.S. has a more acceptable lobbyist at the EU court,” former Cabinet minister John Redwood wrote on his blog. “The U.S. stance will probably recruit more U.K. citizens to the cause of a new and different relationship with the EU for the U.K. We have no wish to be told that we should lose our democracy in the cause of advancing America’s.” …
Bernard Jenkin, the Tory chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, said Gordon’s intervention showed that U.S. governments do not understand the ways of the 27-nation EU.
“They have a default position that the United States of Europe is going to be the same as the United States of America. They haven’t got a clue,” he told BBC Radio 5. “The State Department in particular has long had this predilection that somehow European unity is a good thing and Britain ought to be in there, but I don’t think David Cameron is going to be dictated to based on such a misunderstanding.”