What can the EU do on possible Brexit amid Tory civil war?

The Conservative leadership will publish a draft Bill to guarantee that an in/out referendum on Europe will be held by 2017. From the outside it seems that PM Cameron is first of all trying to please the part of his Conservative Party. But would you say that the EU, members states should somehow react on what is going on in the UK or not, and why? Read few comments.

Christian SchweigerLecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

Cameron’s decision to support a draft bill on guaranteeing a referendum on EU membership is certainly a move which is intended to stop the civil war that has broken out in the Conservative party over Europe. It seems that the situation is similar to that of the John Major government, with a number of backbench MPs and also senior cabinet ministers (Philip Hammond and Michael Gove) trying to undermine Cameron’s stance, which is at least for now still committed to keep Britain in the EU under the conditions of a renegotiation of its membership and reforms to the EU institutions.

I do not think that the rest of the EU should at this point react to what it happening in the UK, although it is really an unprecedented situation with Britain potentially leaving the EU by 2017. Public opinion in the UK is certainly becoming increasingly anti-European, which can be seen in the widespread support for the UK Independence Party in the recent local elections. The only positive intervention the EU (and particularly a country like Poland) could make at this stage is to invite the UK government to work with them constructively to look at reforming the EU’s policies, procedures and institutions. The problem with this is that it seems to me that Cameron is most interested in trying to achieve a renegotiation of the principle of the freedom of movement of workers. The concerns about ‘welfare migration’ from other EU countries (particularly Romania and Bulgaria when they are free to move in 2014) has become a major issue in the public debate in the UK and is being politically exploited by UKIP who argue that the only way to stop this is for Britain to exit the EU. Cameron is therefore likely to demand greater flexibility for countries to limit labour migration from other EU countries, which of course fundamentally change the principle of the Single Market. His government has already announced that they are planning to limit access of foreigners (including EU citizens) to public services such as the National Health Service. How this works in practice and if this can be brought in line with existing EU legislation remains to be seen.

So to sum up, it is not looking good but there is not too much the EU can do at the moment other than to offer Britain a say in a consensual debate on the future shape of its institutions and policies. I personally think that nothing will make much of a difference and that the UK is on the brink of exit.

Oliver DaddowReader in International Politics, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester

1. Cameron clearly did not particularly want to address the issue of Europe head-on, either at this or any other time. He is a pragmatic Eurosceptic but clearly committed to Britain’s EU membership, on the right terms – as he sees them (and which are generally left undefined by him).

2. His January 2013 Bloomberg speech was a clumsy attempt to delay having to make a decision either way. The holding of a referendum in 2017 relies upon the prior satisfaction of 2 conditions: a successful renegotiation; and Cameron still being PM in 2017. Neither condition looks that likely to be satisfied.

3. UKIP’s showing in the May local authority elections has put pressure on Cameron from a rightwing of the Conservative Party who, despite themselves it seems, consistently put the issue of Europe ahead of considerations of party unity.

4. The existence of a coalition government only serves to complicate matters for Cameron because the Liberals might not be the Europhiles of the past, but they are committed to British EU membership. That said, they are also committed to an in/out referendum.

5. I cannot see a situation in which it is in the EU’s interests to react in any noticeable way. This is very much an internal Conservative Party matter and is reminiscent of the John Major years with the Maastricht backbench rebels. It would only inflame opposition to the EU in Britain should the EU be seen to be ‘interfering’ in the affairs of a (notionally) sovereign state.

6. The US has made clear its support for Britain’s EU membership and that as much as any other source of pressure may prove decisive or at least influential in any referendum debate.

Simon UsherwoodSenior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Surrey

For other member states, the British debate poses some very difficult questions. On the one hand, many countries value British membership of the EU, as a counterweight to both Germany and France: if nothing else, the UK can be relied upon to make sure that integration is not an automatic process of deepening. However, those same countries will not want to ally themselves too closely to a state that might be on the way out. Even if the UK doesn’t leave, it might be seen as bad company to keep, so at least at the level of rhetoric, it makes sense to keep the British at arm’s length. The dilemma is that this will only make the UK feel and look more isolated in the EU, helping those who argue that exit is the best option.

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One Response

  1. Equanto houver Sir. politicos do partido conservador com bixos na cabesa que nós queremos mandar no monopolio comercial da UE se não iramos deixar a UE eu estou convencido que o povo birtânico irá dizer o cim á Europa

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