In a referendum on the independence of Scotland on September 18th, 2014 a narrow majority of 55% voted against Scottish secession from the United Kingdom (UK), the political union between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Paradoxically, the elements in British politics that were so much against Scottish secession are now calling for secession from the other union, the European Union (EU). This article aims to clarify why a Brexit would be dramatic for both the UK and the EU. (Featured Image © La Veu del País Valencià)
Prime Minister David Cameron, who is campaigning in favour of the UK’s membership of the EU, promised to hold a referendum on the British membership of the EU. Facing the growing Euroscepticism within his own Conservative Party and the strong competition on the right from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), this promise is deemed to be nothing more than an attempt to ease the many anti-European voices in his country. Some prominent conservatives are unmistakeably in favour of the so-called Brexit. Syed Kamall, the current chairman of the group of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in the European Parliament, declared that he is backing a Brexit because it is the only way to create a fair immigration system. The former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, even went as far as to compare the EU with Nazi Germany. Also some cabinet ministers endorsed a Brexit.
International organisations and leaders around the world have raised their concerns about a potential British withdrawal from the EU. The G20 has warned that a Brexit would deliver a major ‘shock’ to the global economy. Stock markets are already plummeting amid Brexit fears. Several economists from the UK supported this claim and warned that a Brexit would have negative consequences for the British economy. For instance, the London-based think tank Open Europe predicted a long term decrease of the Great Britain Pound (GBP).
The “out-campaigners” might believe that the UK can easily negotiate trade terms with third countries, but the warning from the Americans demonstrates that it remains to be seen how favourable these terms will be.
U.S. President Barack Obama argued that the EU “makes the world more safe and prosperous”, and, therefore, that the UK should remain part of it. In addition, the USA is not keen on pursuing a separate Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the UK if it were to leave the EU. The “out-campaigners” might believe that the UK can easily negotiate trade terms with third countries, but the warning from the Americans demonstrates that it remains to be seen how favourable these terms will be.
Those in favour of a Brexit may set Norway and Switzerland – or even Liechtenstein – as an example of how the post-Brexit UK would look like. In addition to the fact that these are completely different countries, access to the highly lucrative European Single Market depends on the willingness of these countries to adhere to EU (!) rules.
Nigel Farrage, UKIP leader and one of the most prominent Eurosceptic Members of European Parliament (MEP), named immigration as the key issue in the Brexit campaign. In his line of thinking the open borders in the EU are to blame. There is no evidence that leaving the EU would mean less immigration. Another important question also remain unanswered, with whom are ‘Prime Minister Johnson’ and ‘Foreign Secretary Kamall’ going to negotiate their ‘fair immigration system’? It could very well be argued that the EU fails to provide an adequate answer to the current crisis, but the Member States are the ones to blame and not the EU as an institution.
There is no evidence that leaving the EU would mean less immigration.
Others have referred to the ostensibly limited British influence within the EU. Simply looking to the many times in which London was outvoted in European Council votes, cannot serve as an effective indicator of British influence in the EU. The real work – the hard bargaining – takes place many days before the actual vote. The more controversial and unpopular proposals might not even make it to the Council. On the contrary, a study on relations between the national delegations revealed that 20 of the 26 respondents named the UK officials as their principal partners. So it seems that there is in fact some real British influence within the Council and that British engagement with the EU is crucial as well.
Due to the British population figures, the UK, together with France, Germany, Italy and Spain, is one of the Big 5 in the EU. This in itself gives some added weight in Council votes, following the system of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) that only passes legislation if at least 55% of the Member States, representing at least 65% of the EU population, vote in favour. The fact that the UK representatives within the European Parliament (EP) might be less influential, is largely the result of the fact that the Conservatives left the biggest political group within the EP – the Christian democrat European People’s Party (EPP) – and that UKIP is by far the least active participant in the EP. On the average, MEPs from UKIP participated in only 62% of the parliamentary votes.
Avoiding a Brexit could help to preserve the union between England, Northern Island, Scotland and Wales.
The UK might have lost some of its sovereignty in terms of foreign policy – although it still maintains a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), but it should be noted that the EU as a global diplomatic player is on the rise and as such appreciated by third powers. In addition, the UK is represented twice on the global scale: by its Foreign Secretary and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Lastly, avoiding a Brexit could help to preserve the union between England, Northern Island, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish citizens narrowly voted down a proposal to leave the UK. If there will be a Brexit, the Scottish National Party (SNP) might call for another independence referendum. Given Scottish popular support for EU membership, secessionist sentiments in Scotland may rise again. A Brexit might also endanger the Peace Process in Northern Island, as it can easily spoil North-South relations again.
In the face of the migration crisis, terrorist threats and unstable eastern borders, a Brexit and European disunity is not the answer.
A Brexit is likely to cause a complete mess. A weaker EU, a weaker UK and an uncertain future. In the face of the migration crisis, terrorist threats and instable eastern borders, a Brexit and European disunity is not the answer. European Council President Donald Tusk argued that a Brexit might have “long term consequences that nobody can foresee”. At least it is very likely to give further impetus to anti-European elements in other Member States who might call for a Frexit (France), Nexit (the Netherlands), Italexit (Italy), Swexit (Sweden), Hexit (Hungary), etc. Cameron will be held responsible for creating this mess.