I will often refer to what is now the European Union as the Community to get over the several name changes that have occurred.
The United Kingdom will leave the European Union within 5 years and likely sooner. In making this assessment it’s largely wasteful to scan the economic issues for they are not a driving force. In fact the catalyst is one man, Nigel Farage, with a powerful following and whose popularity is on the increase but before we get to that, some history…
No two countries are the same, of course but Britain has a unique political history that goes back to 1066 – the last time Britain was successfully invaded.
I realize that this may sound strange but it’s burned deeply into the national soul. It’s why the heroics of the Royal Navy in Napoleon’s time are part of every schoolchild’s primary education. Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar resulted in the huge Nelson Monument in, yes, Trafalgar Square. Over 200 years after his death the «Nelson Touch» still hits British patriotic heartstrings. In the annual BBC «Proms» Concerts at Royal Albert Hall, tears still flow when all sing Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory.
This national attitude was summed up in the 1830s by Britain’s then Foreign Minister, later Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston who said: «England has no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.»
This translated into a fixed policy that Britain would always build power blocs in Europe such that they were never out numbered. It’s also important to know that Britain had, for a very long time with some success, set up special trading relations with the Commonwealth.
Winston Churchill, in a speech in Zurich in 1946, gave the impetus to the Common Market by urging Germany and France into a coal/steel agreement and indeed did use the term ‘United States of Europe». What is invariably overlooked, it seems, is that he specifically said the UK should not be a part of this but, along with the Soviet Union be a cheerleader standing on the sidelines urging them on to success.
After the Common Market was established, Charles de Gaulle twice vetoed Britain’s entry, the last being in 1967. In my opinion, he did so for good cause, namely that Britain’s loyalties to Churchill’s «English Speaking World» was too strong for it to make the sort of commitment the Community required.
Britain did join the Common Market in 1973 confirmed in 1975 in a referendum by 67% of the 64% who voted. This vote loses a bit of its sheen when one remembers that this was not a vote to enter but to confirm a done deal. Further, in those days the future looked strewn with roses as far as one could see.
With all that, the British have been less than thrilled by the results. Much European law has been seen to be petty, a nuisance and in many ways unenforceable. There have been near crises such as the Social Charter seen by many of all political persuasions as an unwarranted incursion of Britain’s heir right to self government.
Then there was the currency, or ERM, crisis as described by Wikipedia thusly: «In politics and economics, Black Wednesday refers to 16 September 1992 when the British government was forced to withdraw from the (ERM) currency agreement after they were unable to keep it above its agreed lower limit. George Soros, the most high profile of the currency market investors, made over GBP£1 billion profit by short selling sterling».
In 1997 the UK Treasury estimated the cost of Black Wednesday at £3.4 billion, with the actual cost being £3.3 billion… (to crisis was added a sense of shame). The UK, in recent months, has refused to help with the currency crises in Greece and other member countries.
The refusal to join the Euro also speaks to British stubbornness. They see their pound, like the Queen and their House of Commons as being sacred institutions. One need only go back to the day the pound was decimalized to see the affection the Brits have for these things. Jacques Delors, long time (between January 1985 and December 1994) President of the Community regularly scared the liver out of many Brits as proposed bills which they saw as usurping the rights of Parliament, the most sacred of UK tenets of faith.
The long term of Margaret Thatcher (1979 to 1990) reflected the divisiveness of the Community issue on many fronts.
Let’s look at the UK today. To many the Community is a failure at worst, a bloody nuisance at best. The next UK election is to likely be in 2014 and the Prime Minister has promised that if the Tories win there will be a referendum on continued UK membership. And here is what it will look like.
Voters will not be looking at continuing a relationship that is good for them. The salad days have passed and now the EU faces several national bankruptcies in its midst for which the UK government has refused help. There is no rainbow out there with a pot of gold at the end, as in 1975, but what seems to be a crumbling economic mess.
The UK Independence Party which has 11 of the 73 UK seats in the European Parliament, three members in the House of Lords and one seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Their performance in the 2013 local election was the best result for a party outside the big three in British politics since the Second World War. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP been a UKIP Member of the European Parliament (MEP) since 1999.
This is, admittedly, a libertarian thus far right party. Pro Euros would say that this will help the Labour Party win but as sure as God made little green apples Labour will also promise a referendum if elected. What all this means, then, is that Britain, only partly in the Community as it is, will have a free vote on whether or not the keep its membership.
There are limitless economic issues and loyalties to be dealt with. There will be a Scottish referendum on Scottish independence on Thursday 18 September 2014 presumably after the general election.
Should this fail, what will the mood of the people be on Europe? (I can see my editor gnashing his teeth asking «tell us Rafe» and all I can say is «I’m damned if I know except to say a referendum on Europe is going to be held in a very strange political climate.»)
Perhaps, that’s the way to leave it – a member of the Community which has never agreed to the sticky bits, with all three member parties divided, after an election where a real Separatist participates and after a secessionist referendum has created considerable nastiness in the air and with a general electorate which is reluctant at best about the community, this country will hold a vote on continued membership in the EU. Remember, too, there is no well known and respected figure or group championing the EU.
Admittedly, as former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, in politics 6 weeks is an eternity but I for one, would not want to bet the family castle on voters choosing to stay in an organization that to them has little to offer.