At the beginning of the year EU Perspectives proposed that if you were a betting person you should bet on Britain staying in the EU and Greece remaining a member of the Eurozone. Last night’s election results and Ttsipras’ continuing intransigence is forcing many to reverse that thinking and contemplate the EU without Britain as a Member State and Greece no longer a member of the Eurozone.
Brexit a reality?
Cameron has just won a credible majority in the House of Commons and a mandate to rule the country for a further five years. Having won so decisively the question is no longer if there will be a referendum but when exactly it will take place in 2017?
So, what are the prospects of Britain voting to leave the EU? Based on the current mood in the UK, the misunderstanding surrounding the intentions of the EU in the UK and the amount of votes UKIP got last night: pretty strong is the answer.
Many British voters have stated they want to stay in the EU – but only on condition that it be reformed. A fundamental root and branch reform of the EU treaties in favour of UK interests, however, is highly unlikely to happen.
As argued elsewhere on this site seeking a reform of the Treaties in Britain’s favour is a hugely ambitious project that is unlikely to fly. Few in Brussels are in the mood for tweaking a complex Treaty. Even less want to appear to be bowing to UK pressure. The majority of EU member states are comfortable with the dirigiste approach to governance and do not see the need to transform the EU into a laissez-fair Anglo-Saxon model. Even more believe that the Conservative’s list of proposed reforms is lacking in substance.
Many also express concern that if the EU, comprising of the Member States, Commission and European Parliament, give in to Cameron who will be the next in line demanding changes that suit their national, not community, interest? Germany? France? Poland? Granting a reform of the EU to appease the UK would set a terrible precedent that few are willing to set let alone contemplate.
Further, having pretty much ignored or snubbed his European counter-parts at European Council meetings Cameron has cultivated few friends in Europe. To recall none of his natural allies supported him when he tried to block Juncker’s nomination last summer. As we have seen with the Liberal Democrats, and as any possible European allies to Cameron’s proposed reform of the EU may have noticed, Cameron’s approach to dealing with coalition partners is to hold them in contempt rather than to work with them creatively.
Being a creature of the British political system Cameron is not a natural at schmoozing potential allies to his way of thinking. Unlike most of his continental counter-parts Cameron has little experience in building coalitions – and if continental European politicians, particularly EU Heads of State, know one thing it is coalition building, even with political adversaries. Cameron’s cold-shouldering of them and his snubs in Brussels during difficult times have not gone unnoticed by those who may have been inclined to help push his proposed reform package.
In short very few member states and even less MEPs in Brussels have either the intention, the political will or indeed the inclination to bow to Cameron’s demands for the kind of reform he is hoping to achieve. Although Cameron will try to pass off what tit-bits of reforms may be thrown his way as a victory both the right-wing element in his party and UKIP will be snapping at his heals pointing out the obvious fact that any reforms he claims to have negotiated will be nothing but hot-air.
The UK voter will know this and vote to leave.
What would the implications be for the UK if it were to vote to leave the EU?
Should the UK vote to leave the EU, and there is every reason to believe that it will, it would have a number of impacts on the UK. Most of them adverse.
First and foremost Scotland will probably decide to the leave the United Kingdom in favour of remaining part of the European Union. The SNP, which won a resounding victory in Scotland last night and which can claim, with all legitimacy, to speak for the Scottish people, has stated before that if the UK votes to leave the EU it’s a deal-breaker and a new Scottish independence referendum will have to be held.
Were Scotland to leave the United Kingdom this would leave Cameron in charge of a much smaller, less significant country, isolated from the European Union and with a lot less influence on the global stage than it currently has.
There is no doubt that many in Brussels want the UK to remain an active member of the EU – but not at any cost. Of course, should the UK vote for a Brexit the EU will respect the democratic will of the British people. Negotiating a favourable exit, however, could prove messy and complicated. Why would the EU give the UK any preferences when it has so obviously snubbed EU membership? The perks, after all, are for club members only. Outsiders get to look in but they can not claim favourable benefits.
Those contemplating life outside of the EU should be aware that not only will the United Kingdom’s new status put a huge strain on its cross border commerce, trade and financial services it will also weaken her role in the world and leave her at risk of lagging behind the rest of continental Europe – her largest trading partner.
Neither Brexit nor Grexit are particularly desirable. Neither Brexit nor Grexit is particularly wanted in Brussels. The EU, however, is not an autocratic institution. It respects the democratic will of its member states, including Britain and Greece, and if they decide that membership of the either the Union or the Eurozone is no longer compatible with their long-term interests then so be it.