The relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom has been tumultuous and ambivalent since the very creation of the bloc. Great Britain had joined the European Economic Community in 1973. The country has maintained a considerable distance from EU by opting out of some its key policies. Not adopting EU’s common currency i.e. Euro, and distancing itself from the Schengen Agreement, the treaty which ended border checkpoints and controls for travel between various European countries, creating, literally, a border-free Europe, are the most pertinent examples in this regard. In the recent years, this EU-UK gulf has widened to such an extent that the notion of Brexit — British exit from EU — has gained momentum and the country is going to hold a referendum on June 23 to take the historic decision whether the country remains a member of the bloc or forges ahead on its own path. If Britain leaves the EU, it would be the first country to do so.
The June 23 Referendum will settle the question that has been rumbling close to the surface of British politics for a generation: should the country remain within the European Union, or leave the organisation and go alone. Both the supporters and opponents of the Brexit insist that the outcome will settle the matter of Britain’s EU membership for the foreseeable future.
Public opinion in Great Britain is divided into two main groups: the Leave camp and the Remain camp. The Leave camp is being headed by the boisterous Boris Johnson who recently retired after serving as the Mayor of London for 8 years. The Remain side, on the other hand, is being lead by former Marks and Spencer chairman Lord Stuart Rose who with active support of the incumbent British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Ever since the idea of a Brexit referendum was broached, the US president has made clear his support for Britain’s continued membership of the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and some famous British political figures like Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Former Foreign Secretary William Hague, have also supported the remain Camp i.e. Bremain.
Brexit: Vote Leave
This cross-party campaign grew out of Business for Britain and it does enjoy the backing of senior Conservatives plus a handful of Labour MPs. The campaign has a string of affiliated groups such as Farmers for Britain, Muslims for Britain and Out and Proud, and other anti-EU groups, aimed at building support in different communities.
Arguments presented by the advocates for Brexit i.e. the Leave Camp, assert that if the UK successfully reclaims its national sovereignty, it would be in a position to better manage immigration issues and to free itself from onerous EU regulations which would spur more dynamic growth of the country’s economy. They claim that the Britain pays billions of pounds a year in membership fees to the EU for little in return. They also want Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming here to work.
Michael Gove, Britain’s justice secretary, set out his argument for Brexit by saying:
“Our membership of the EU prevents us being able to change huge swaths of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives.”
Brexiters think that staying in the EU might be risky because Brussels has form in trying to extend its influence and increase its budget. This propensity could be catalysed by the eurozone’s move toward
greater fiscal and political union which could be detrimental to the countries like the UK who don’t belong to the Euro club. And the EU’s relative importance in the world is waning. The overall result is that the benefits of being a member could diminish over time as the costs go up.
- The euro has created economic misery for Europe’s poorest people.
- EU regulation has entrenched mass unemployment.
- EU immigration policies have encouraged people traffickers and brought desperate refugee camps to Britain’s borders. Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the EU’s policies have become a source of instability and insecurity.
- European institutions have changed beyond recognition since 1973.
- The EU has become a suffocating bureaucracy with ever-expanding regulations.
- Out of the EU, the UK could reduce regulation, improve competitiveness and forge trade deals with fast-growing emerging economies.
Bremain: Britain Stronger in Europe
The UK is highly integrated with the rest of the EU in terms of trade, investment, migration and financial services. The Bremainers believe that if they opt out of the EU, it would be a “leap into the dark,” as Prime Minister David Cameron calls it.
That’s why they assert that leaving the EU would carry major risks. The UK would, among other things, face the possibility of losing preferential access to its largest trading partner and the disruption of its large financial sector. Meanwhile, a Brexit could accelerate nationalist movements across the continent, from Scotland to Hungary, with unpredictable consequences for the European project.
- After nine treaties and more than 40 years of political and economic integration, there can be no optimum or “ideal” mechanism for leaving the EU.
- Around 3.5 million British jobs are directly linked to British membership of the European Union’s single market and Brexit would jeopardize those and it may culminate in high unemployment ratio in the UK.
- Since, European countries’ trade agreements with the rest of the world are mostly negotiated through the EU, therefore, Britain would have no option but to renegotiate trade deals alone which may give birth to numerous problems.
- While the EU is the world’s largest market, a UK outside the EU would not be a high priority for other counties to negotiate a trade deal.
- The EU buys over 50 percent of UK exports (54 percent of goods, 40 percent of services) and in case UK leaves the EU, these exports will suffer a major setback.
- With less than 1% of the world’s population and less than 3% of its output, the United Kingdom can achieve what it wants more effectively from within the European club.
- With free movement intact, the immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, will fuel economic growth in the UK.
- As the EU is in the process of negotiating a trade deal with the United States, so the UK would be shut out of any EU-US deal and would also need to renegotiate trade access with the fifty-three countries with which the EU currently has trade agreements.
What if Brexit Succeeds?
If the majority Britons vote to leave the European Union, it would be an unprecedented situation because no full EU member has ever left the group — Greenland, which left it in 1982, was a Danish territory.
If the Brexit campaign succeeds, then the 2009 Lisbon Treaty stipulates that the UK would have two years to negotiate its withdrawal. These negotiations may become extremely complex for the United Kingdom because it would need to determine numerous transitional procedures to disentangle from EU regulations, settling the status of UK citizens residing in other EU countries, and deciding the future and the nature of the security cooperation. The final withdrawal deal must get approved by a super majority of EU countries, as well as by the European Parliament.
During this 2-year period, Britain would continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but will not take part in any decision-making
Cameron’s Last-ditch Effort: EU-UK Deal
While speaking at Bloomberg’s London headquarters in January 2013, the British Premier outlined his ambition to recast the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU. In November 2015, he announced that before the referendum, he would seek EU reform in four major areas: national sovereignty, immigration policy, financial and economic regulation and competitiveness.
This deal was actually struck on 19th February 2016. It changes the terms of Britain’s membership with the EU as through this deal, the Great Britain has been given a “special status” within the EU if it stays as a part of the 28-nation economic and political alliance. The deal will take effect immediately if the UK votes to remain in the EU.
The main points of the deal are:
Child benefit: Migrant workers will still be able to send child benefit payments back to their home country but the payments will be set at a level reflecting the cost of living in their home country rather than the full UK rate
Migrant welfare payments: Mr Cameron says cutting the amount of benefits, low-paid workers from other EU nations can claim when they take a job in the UK, will remove one of the reasons people come to Britain in such large numbers. New arrivals will not be able to claim tax credits and other welfare payments straight away – but will gradually gain the right to more benefits the longer they stay, at a rate yet to be decided.
David Cameron secured assurances that the eurozone countries will not discriminate against Britain for having a different currency. Any British money spent on bailing out eurozone nations that get into trouble will also be reimbursed.
Protection for the City of London: Safeguards for Britain’s large financial services industry to prevent eurozone regulations being imposed on it.
Abandoning ever closer union: For the first time, there will be a clear commitment that Britain is not part of a move toward “ever closer union” with other EU member states — a core EU principle. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change. Mr Cameron also secured a “red card” system for national parliaments. It will be easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation, it will be rethought.
Public opinion polls show not a majority but a plurality of Britons would like to stay in the EU, with support for it at a five-year high, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations: 45 percent want the UK to remain in the EU, while only 35 percent want the country to leave it.
So, keep your fingers crossed and wait for the D-day!