EU in or EU out?

18 December 2015

The UK will soon be faced with a question that may well have a profound impact on its future and materially shape its place in the world, namely: should the UK remain in or out of the European Union.

The UK will soon be faced with a question that may well have a profound impact on its future and materially shape its place in the world, namely: should the UK remain in or out of the European Union. 

First, a bit of context with regards to the vote itself. There are certain default rules that apply to referenda, and in particular UK referenda. Chief among them is that the voting public are significantly more inclined to vote for the status quo as opposed to change. Why so? One reason could be the fear of uncertainty prevailing over the case for change. 


Is this ostensible position of voting for uncertainty actually the case, however? Would remaining in the EU represent the most certain position and present fewer unknowns? Arguably the reverse is true. The EU is yet to emerge from the monetary crisis that has rendered a number of Member States politically emasculated and in a seemingly perennial state of economic crisis. How will the EU solve the inherent defect of aligning monetary union (and indeed political union) with fiscal union? In the wake of the initial sovereign debt crisis in 2009, EU officials cried out that more Europe and not less Europe was the answer. "Ever closer Union" as was enshrined in the Treaty of Rome remains the modus operandi for the EU. Do we know what this will actually entail? 

It's clear that in the EU referendum, the Out campaign has an uphill struggle on its hands in convincing the public that making this 'leap into the dark' will pay dividends. Much like the Better Together campaigners and the Tories in their respective votes, the Pro-EU campaigners will argue against retreating from the safety of the status quo and accentuate the hazards of deviating from the well-trodden path. If the In campaigners are labelled as fear-mongers and bloodless accountants, they should know they are on to a winner… 

In most places, most of the time, democratic politics is the act of selecting the lesser of two evils. This is doubly true in Britain, with its aversion to ideology. If the most zealous pro-Europeans do not see this, it is because their cause has become a species of religion, not politics. They believe Britons are only Eurosceptic because they read lurid newspapers and listen to elitist politicians. 

The real reason for why Britain is Eurosceptic is because its experience of independent nationhood was, for the most part, benign. The fact is that the UK's broader history in conjunction with the continent is certainly not one of union. Up until the late nineteenth century, the concept of being politically bound to Europe would have been completely absurd if not anathema. In the grand scheme of the UK's history, European union is very much a modern phenomenon. Of course, two intervening World Wars galvanised the collective will to forge a Union of Member States. Some elements of 'big business' are understandably nervous over the prospect of a 'Brexit'. Not least because there is clearly no 'ideal' form of exit which will leave economic ties to the single market neatly intact. The ideal form of exit, one which preserves the UK’s market access but exempts it from market rules, will never be permitted by the EU. 

Negotiation over reform was likewise doomed from the outset. The Eurosceptics will argue that whatever deal is brought back does not go far enough and Europhiles will argue that membership is worthwhile even with no reform. 

What then will be the outcome?

The most likely outcome is that prudence will prevail. We matter, but not enough to get exactly the kind of EU we want. The best reason to stay in the EU may seemingly be the absence of a superior alternative. If the UK votes to leave, however unlikely that is, it will not revert back to the ideology of 'separate spheres' where it would play off its interests across the Atlantic, in Europe and throughout the Commonwealth in equal measure. Likewise, any deal bargained for to regain access to the Single Market will inevitably involve acquiescing to some European regulation which will, over time, thicken and consume its 'independence' once again. If the UK votes to remain in, nothing changes, except perhaps the threat that the vote is perceived as some form of affirmation of the European project and that our politicians read the same as a green light for even deeper European integration. 

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