by Bill Wirtz
December 8, 2017
In the debate around the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, the side arguing on behalf of Britain remaining a part of the EU wasn’t a particularly convincing one. Positions for “Remain” were largely based on emotions. There is however, one very convincing point for a British remainder in the union.
The Rebel Voice
Since the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Communities (EC) via referendum in 1975, the country has been, to put it mildly, a rebel when it comes to European integration. The concept of European integration is the idea that the problems on the European continent can be solved if the EU member states centralise institutions and policies. This would mean, outside of the already existing common currency, common agricultural policy, common fisheries policy, that the EU would get a common foreign policy, military force, and so on.
And indeed, the list of enlargement power grabs by the EU is long.
Meanwhile, the UK has been an advocate for more free trade with countries outside of the European continent. The British exit is another blow to the still ongoing free trade deal between the US and the EU. Former World Bank economist Chad Bown said this after the vote last year:
“As the UK is part of the coalition of liberal trading economies in the EU, the U.S. is losing one of the more like-minded countries from the group in Brussels sitting on the other side of the negotiating table.”
In 2016, Her Majesty’s Government blocked EU efforts for larger tariffs on Chinese imports, despite internal voices calling for further-reaching protectionist measures.
The UK was equally skeptical of moves toward a common European foreign policy. Earlier this year, the UK blocked a consolidated EU position on the Paris Agreement, which attempted to lead toward peace between Israel and Palestine. The Foreign Office stated that:
“We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them – indeed, which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis.”
The UK Was the Counterweight
Despite the Union having a permanent High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a post currently occupied by the Italian Federica Mogherini, the UK constantly blocked common political positioning. The tactic: the UK government claimed that foreign policy statements were related to matters such as health policy or education, which remain in the hands of the member states. This opposition to any integration on the issue of foreign policy is consistent with the UK’s opposition to a common European military force, which Britain considered to be a rival to NATO.
Former chairman of the European Parliament, the German Social-Democrat Martin Schulz, therefore called for the UK to leave the EU as soon as possible, so that faster moves towards a common European force could be achieved. In November, 23 EU member states signed the PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) notification, which will increase military cooperation between the states, to the extent that the Union even highlights the words “common commitment” in its press release.
The UK strictly opposed a financial transaction tax, stricter financial regulations, a completely new EU treaty in 2011, and also opted out of the Euro (the EU’s common currency).
Britain’s opposition inside the European Council was a necessary counterweight to the largely federalist tendencies that Brussels is trying to impose on its member states, with a majority of rules and regulations already being made inside the EU’s capital.
A Few Softcore Rebels Remain
The UK’s departure won’t mean that no opposition is left. Countries such as Ireland or Luxembourg are likely to oppose tax harmonisation, while Central European nations will argue for greater independence when it comes to trade. But their positions are milk compared to Britain’s brandy: they very often used the UK as an excuse for their mild opposition, but would now have to stand their own ground. Smaller countries which are dependent on good relations with countries such as France or Germany are likely to bow down to the Merkel-Macron duo.
The torch of sane Euroscepticism is likely to be put out by Britain leaving the EU in March of 2019. Let’s hope that new countries step up their game in order to oppose the dangerous centralisation of power which is being pushed by the EU’s bureaucracy.