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Break Up or Make Up: the United Kingdom’s frought relationship with the European Union

January 19, 2016



Since its beginning, the European Union and its predecessors: the European Economic Community and the European Communities, have experienced periods of growth and stagnation in membership, but as of yet not regression. This makes the movements that David Cameron’s Britain is making to limit or even remove its presence from the European Union so novel. The United Kingdom has a history of trying to leave the European Union, or at least of avoiding complete acquiescence to the desires of the EU. Currently, the United Kingdom has obtained the right to keep their own currency – the pound – and thus opts out of the Economic and Monetary Union and the need to have the euro as sole legal currency. Additionally, the United Kingdom (and Ireland) do not take part in the Schengen Agreement and have an opt-out on police and justice matters. In one further step, the UK has an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

After announcing in January 2013 that David Cameron would pursue a referendum to amend the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union, talk increased greatly about the possibility of the UK exiting from the European Union – commonly referred to as ‘Brexit’. The parties who believe that Britain would fare better leaving the EU entirely think that the EU is holding British businesses back with their restrictions and regulations and/or do not like the idea that the European Union’s goal is to create an “ever closer union”. David Cameron would prefer to stay in the European Union, but strengthen the United Kingdom’s ability to choose policies and operate for themselves. In a letter to Donald Trusk, the president of the European Council, Cameron outlined some of his main goals for changes. For instance, restricting the benefits that the UK needs to provide to European Union migrants, opting out of participating in even further political integration, prohibiting bias over non-euro currencies within the EU, and giving the UK more sovereignty over blocking EU legislation. Cameron and the other people who support staying in the EU think that being within the union allows for more trade markets, which helps with economic growth, and that being a member of the EU gives the United Kingdom more political and international clout than they would have without membership. For a more in-depth analysis of what the financial and political ramifications of this decision would be, check out this explanation of the most probable situations for each of the more possible outcomes.83670578_000733050-1

David Cameron has said that the vote on his proposed referendum will happen by the end of 2017, though Prime Minister Cameron said that he would like it to be held as soon as possible. At one point there had been rumors that it would be held in May 2016, but the government has denied that will happen, so June and July of 2016 are the most likely dates now – if Cameron manages to get an early vote. The ability to have the referendum put to a vote in June or July would depend on a positive experience at the EU summit in Brussels on February 18-19. The next summit – to be held in March, would still allow Cameron to get his referendum on the ballots in the fall of 2016 – one of the last chances he’ll get to hold a vote on it this year.83670572_013229355-1

Members of the EU have expressed concerns about allowing policies that discriminate against other EU nationals, with some countries especially opposing the notion that the UK would not provide benefits to EU migrants. Within the UK, alternatives to the exact measures Cameron wants to put in the referendum are to limit number of immigrants to the UK, creating a two-tier membership in the EU, which would allow the UK to not be a part of the “ever closer union”, and changing laws within the UK to be stronger than the EU laws and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The possibility of the United Kingdom leaving, or at least lessening their presence in the European Union, comes at an interesting time. With the Syrian refugee crisis expanding into Europe, the EU has been very anxious to find a way to best respond to the situation, recently brokering a deal worth approximately 3.2 billion 018822430_30300euros with Turkey, stipulating that it was to be spent to care for the refugees who land on Turkey’s soil (some of whom were traveling further into Europe). With this, the EU began accession talks with Turkey, and many reports are state that the EU has strongly been implying that in aiding with the refugee crisis – and shouldering the majority of the refugees – Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union might be expedited. Though there are conflicting reports and evidence that many European Union members are very hesitant to accept Turkey among their ranks – observable in the fact that Turkey has struggled for decades attempting to meet standards and pass the regulations needed to be accepted to the EU.

Will the recommencement of talks with Turkey affect how the members of the EU view the United Kingdom’s referendum discussions? Will wanting to maintain at least some sort of relationship with the United Kingdom make member states more likely to accept the concessions, or will the hesitancy they feel about Turkey joining force them into a more defensive corner, where they try and call the UK’s bluff, that when offered an all-or-nothing option with the EU, they would choose to remain? Certainly the next few months will see interesting updates to this debate.


For more information on David Camron’s referendum and the proposed timeline for the referendum, then check out these news pieces run by the BBC.


Blog Post by Erin Arnold

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