Possible British Europe Exit Divides Country, Europe

France wouldn’t mind if the British left the European Union. The Germans are anxious.

Westminster Bridge in London, England with the Houses of Parliament in the fog, December 9, 2005
Westminster Bridge in London, England with the Houses of Parliament in the fog, December 9, 2005 (Yuichi Shiraishi)

The political talk in the United Kingdom for many months now has had the specter of British relations with Europe haunting it. It has either been the topic of argument and debate or just been watching quietly and waiting to pounce.

This week, a significant step in the debate was taken. A private member’s bill tabled by Douglas Carswell, the Conservative lawmaker for Clacton, Essex would, if passed, have repealed the 1972 act that made Britain a member of the European Economic Community.

Add this to the fact that last year, 81 members of Parliament rebelled against party policy to vote in favor of a referendum on European Union membership; the fact that the United Kingdom Independence Party is polling 1 percent higher than the Liberal Democrats; the fact that on the e-petitions website, when searching “EU referendum leave” as keywords, it brings up thousands of petitions; and William Hague’s ominous warning in Berlin last week that Britons’ disillusionment with the European Union is “the deepest it has ever been” and one can see that maybe the comments about British attitudes to Europe hardening are right.

In contrast to this, there are those who favor staying in the European Union but on renegotiated terms. For Britain to remain a member though, the bloc may have to adapt and that means making it possible for countries to pick and choose the areas in which they want to cooperate and where they want to retain control. Even as a growing number of Conservatives joins the Better Off out campaign, which advocates a full exit, the Euroskeptic Open Europe think tank argues that membership remains “the most beneficial arrangement” for the United Kingdom.

Continental opinion about a British exit is divided. The French may welcome the possibility as it would enable them to restore parity between Germany and France. As Charles Noone argues in an article that was promoted on Bloggingportal.eu, “By withdrawing from the institutions of the European Union, the United Kingdom would offer the EU an opportunity to launch a real process of federalization.”

The Germans recognize that a British pullout would be detrimental to their interests for that very reason. Argues Michael Stürmer in Die Welt, “It is in the German interest to keep Great Britain in the European Union at all costs.”

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