I know Im a little behind the times here, but last week, there was of course an attempt by several Tories, whove clearly been reading the Daily Mail a little too often (tip to Cameron, insist everyone in the Party should not read it anymore!), to try to force a referendum on Britains membership of the EU. It was of course roundly defeated as anyone whose vaguely sane, even those like Cameron who are sceptical of the EU recognises that a British pull out would be an utter disaster for the country. But it is worrying when you here various opinion polls by the right wing media claiming as many of 70% of Brits want to leave the EU (of course it has to be remembered that this 70% of Express/Mail/Telegraph readership). But just to get the message across loud and clear let us explore the consequences for an English withdrawal from the EU.
Firstly you will note my use of the E word. Havent I forgotten about Scotland and Wales you say? Well no, its just youre assuming that Wales and Scotland are still part of the UK and its likely they will not be. Both these regions have the most to loose from a UK withdrawal from the EU. Euro scepticism is at its strongest in England and relatively low levels in Scotland and Wales. Given the profound implications of a UK withdrawal from the EU would have on them, they would be well within their rights (and of course the nationalist parties in these regions will certainly insist on this) to demand a supplementary question on the ballot paper asking that if England withdraws from the EU that they can choose to stay in by gaining independence (rather than being dragged kicking and screaming out of the EU by England).
As Ive pointed out in my prior post, the scales are largely balanced against Scottish independence, but excessive or unwarranted interference by Westminster in Scottish affairs could easily swing things in the nationalist favour. So the first casualty of a UK pull out could well be the United Kingdom itself (so it should really be the English Independence Party EIP rather than UKIP).
The second casualty will be the special relationship with America. What many forget is that the EU was originally an Anglo-American idea, a sort of United States of Europe (as Churchill put it). To the Americans a unified Europe wont be fight world wars against each other, would act as bastion against communist expansion and most importantly mean they wont have to learn all those funny European languages and the names of all those countries 😉 . Post-war a good deal of the reason why the Americans have continued this special relationship is because they saw the UK as their ally within the EU. Obviously if the UK is no longer in the club, then one has to question whether it is any longer in Americas best interest to maintain this relationship, rather than try to foster better links with the remaining EU countries, or pick another EU member to be their best buddy. Obviously Im not suggesting theyll break off relations with Britain (and take theyre Trident missiles back!) or anything like that, but they will certainly be spending more time schmoozing actual EU member states rather than wasting time with the British and inevitably the special relationship will then suffer or disappear.
And note that if that sounds far fetched, consider the consequences of Britains decision not to join the Euro best thing that ever happened to Ireland!…or was it the worst thing? Sceptical (and hostile) though America always was towards the Euro, many American multinationals wanted a foothold in what was (and still is) the worlds largest collective economy. With Ireland now the only English speaking nation in the Eurozone, many of these companies choose to base their EU headquarters in Dublin, spurring onwards the Celtic Tiger…to the point where our economy overheated mind! But the fact is, there is a substantial element of the British/US axis that is based purely on the fact that the UK is in the EU. If England leaves the EU altogether, these same International financers will also leave and take their money with them, probably to Ireland or Scotland (if its now independent).
The third casualty will be the Commonwealth. If you think about, why in their right mind do the Aussies and Canadians want an elderly German lady who lives thousands of miles away as their sovereign? Why does India want anything to do with its ex-colonial masters? The simple reason why is because the Commonwealth wedges that European trade door open for them and their nations goods. It also make travelling to the EU that little bit easier. Obviously if the UK isnt in the EU anymore the question will be asked by many why exactly are with in this club? And already many in Australia are questioning the wisdom of the commonwealth. The economic and strategic consequences for Britain of a loss of or breakup of the commonwealth would be quite significant.
Also, as David Cameron knows, its better to be in the room than outside it. As the expression goes keep youre friends close, youre enemies even closer. One of the things that is really worrying him right now is the fact that the Eurozone countries seem to be forming their own little private members club, within the EU. But at least the UK has some input into any decisions on the EU sovereign debt crisis bailout. If Britain was no longer in the EU, then it can no longer influence nor veto EU policy. Indeed it would learn about EU policy via BBC news rather than by attending summit meetings. Take the financial transaction tax on the table right now. No way thats going ahead with Britain in the EU , although I have to say that I think its a great idea (but I accept the Tories, i.e. the Eurosceptics, don’t agree with me). With Britain outside…its a strong possibility. And the EU could well make it a condition of doing business in the eurozone that other countries must abide by this FT tax too (or face a 10% punitive tax on all transactions). This would have a very serious impact on the city of London, probably crippling it.
In another example take the Eurofighter. This is basically a taxpayer funded British welfare to work scheme. But with Britain out of the EU the temptation for the Germans and Italians to cancel their orders (buying or licence building Rafales or Gripens instead) and dump the whole sorry mess on the British taxpayer will be too much for Berlin and Rome to resist. Whats that you say? It will mean 10,000 British jobs going? Whats the German for tough tity! Another example, there is talk about harmonising energy supplies across Europe and having a pan-European energy and climate change policy. Its worth noting that the UK is already dependant, to a limited degree, on French electricity (from nuclear power stations, further note that the owner and likely builder of Nuclear reactors in Britain is a French state owned company) and Russian gas (that reaches the country via European pipelines). Once the UK is no longer in the EU it will be beholden to the risk that important decisions on these matters will be taken that will drastically effect the countries energy supply (read keeping the lights on) that it will be unable to influence or veto in any way. If Scotland leaves too (taking the oil and most of the UKs hydroelectric and wind energy capacity with them) then basically Britain will permanently find itself a large net importer of energy, at the mercy of international events and decision taken by neighbouring governments.
The UKIP lot will often try to extradite themselves from these obvious dilemmas by saying oh, well just sign a free trade agreement with the EU. And what makes you think Brussels will agree to a free trade agreement with Britain? It will have nothing to gain from that. At the very least the UK would have to agree to keep on its books much EU law and trading standards as a condition of such a free trade agreement (which from the eurosceptics point of view would largely defeat the purpose of withdrawal in the first place!). And the EU certainly wont entertain British interference in any matter that it now considers as internal EU issue, even if the decision ultimately impacts on Britain (did the EU invite Iceland or Switzerland to the recent economic summit?).
Of course the irony is that many of the things the tabloids frequently blame the EU for, Metrification, Health and Safety culture, the Human rights act, Romanian gypsies and Asylum seekers are of course not the fault of the EU. No, in many cases it is as a consequence of legalisation passed by British parliaments, and in some cases by the conservative party! While the EU may, for example, be in favour of Metrification, Merkel has never put a gun to queens head and said sell beer in half litre glasses or the Corgies get it. This policy has been largely driven by sucessive British governments since the 1960s (i.e. before the UK even joined the EU in the 1970s!) for a variety of unrelated reasons.
Pulling out of the EU would not necessarily mean that any of these problems listed above would go away. Actually some of them could get worse. Would the French now make any effort to keep Asylum seekers out of Britain if Englands no longer an EU country? I suspect theyll start providing free shuttle busses for them from Marseilles to Calais! Its been generally the contradictory decisions of British judges and a lack of a UK constitution that has got Britain tided up in knots with the Human rights act. Again, without the EU its possible this situation will get worse not better. Remember that for Labour and the Lib dems plus many smaller parties the Human rights act is a red line issue; they will not go into coalition (and will walk out of any) government that touches it (of course the same equally goes for EU membership). As soon as the conservatives are out of power theyll re-impose it. Elf nSafety is largely a consequence of the more mercenary and litigious nature of modern day British society, again a lack of a British constitution and SAPS (Save Ass Policy Schemes) rather than anything to do with the EU, so no joy here either.
So the end result of a pull out is a probable break up of the UK, a cooling of the relations (and trade) with America, a loss of influence in the commonwealth and a general reducing of Britain .sorry! Englands standing in the world. There would inevitably be economic repercussions and those would largely be negative, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of jobs lost sort of stuff. Consider that trade with the EU countries represents 60% of UKs trade (compared to 16% with the US), representing 3.2 million jobs, or 12% of the entire UK GDP (from a UK government report, supported by academic source here).
This of course raises the question, in the event of a withdrawal, as too how long before Britain has to think about re-applying for EU membership. Im reminded of this cartoon from the Simpsons, where Mr Burns has two doors into his office, one for new applicants to work at the plant .and a dog flat for re-applicants to crawl through (so he can say well look whos came crawling back). Ive a sneaking suspicion that the French will be pushing for something similar in the event of an English withdrawal. Certainly the EU is being a lot stricter these days about membership (the clubhouse is getting kind of full!) and its highly unlikely that England would be allowed back in under conditions as generous as it currently enjoys. There are a host of laws that without Britain in the room to veto that would get passed and inevitably the UK would now have to take on these laws as a condition for re-entry, plus a couple of other nasties (such as tax harmonisation) which the Germans and French often bring up (when theyre in a lets yank the brits chain sort of mood!)
Consequently if your pro-European one has to argue that its better to be inside the EU and trying to reform it (you will note I have never once suggested that everything is rosy in the EU garden) than outside sulking. And if youre anti-EU you have an even stronger incentive to be in the EU, as who knows what the Eurocrats will get up!