Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Kris BledowskiDirector of economic studies at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation
No, Brexit is not a done deal—but as in the 2014 referendum on Scotland’s independence, partisan divides and sudden swings in opinion are to be expected before the vote on Britain’s EU membership due by the end of 2017. The UK is a mature democracy with a thriving civil society that can mount compelling arguments.
#Brexit is not a done deal.Tweet This
To complicate matters, countervailing winds will blow hard and are not likely to subside. In one direction, the British electorate will witness wavering enthusiasm toward the EU from stalwart enthusiasts, such as Poland, Denmark, and Sweden (all outside the eurozone), in addition to the usual suspects, like France, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. If so many continentals are cross with the EU—many a Brit will ask—why should we keep begging for opt-outs and special treatment in areas that are common sense to us, such as free markets, trade liberalization, or welfare reform?
Pro-EU arguments will sound strong, too. The UK has become richer than its continental peers since the mid-1970s in part because of EU accession. The country’s comparative advantage in high-end services and the enriching influence of skilled immigrants from other EU states have lifted all boats in Britain. Money talks loudly there.
So, to quote the late Yogi Berra, it ain’t over till it’s over.
Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Asia Centre
As someone who ran Cambridge in Europe, a cross-party organization that campaigned in 1975 for Britain to remain in the European Economic Community, I am confident that there will be another vote in favor of continued membership in the referendum to be held by 2017—so confident, indeed, that I am willing to bet a case of wine on the outcome. Any takers?
I am willing to bet a case of wine that there will be no #Brexit.Tweet This
This confidence does not come without certain caveats. First, referendums are inherently unpredictable. How the Irish government failed to win a vote on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in 2008, given the money that is transferred from the EU to Ireland, almost defies belief. (The Irish people later approved the treaty in a second referendum.)
Second, British Prime Minister David Cameron is a weak leader whose main aim, like that of former prime minister Harold Wilson in 1975, is to paper over deep divisions in his party. The problem is that there is now a significant number of Conservative members of parliament who will not be satisfied with anything Cameron may bring back from Brussels as he attempts to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership.
Third, the EU’s current image—squabbling over refugees and having barely recovered from the Greek debt crisis—is hardly conducive to those arguing the pro-EU case. Euroskeptic forces are far stronger today than in 1975, but, as in the case of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, fear of changing the status quo will probably win out in the end.
It would be nice to think the government or even the opposition Labour Party might make a more positive case for Britain’s future in the EU. But that would be asking too much!
Andrew DuffVisiting fellow at the European Policy Centre
The UK and its European partners have not yet agreed to any changes to Britain’s relationship with the EU beyond the habitual exchange of platitudes. British Prime Minister David Cameron has discovered that he needs more than the consent of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to make credible his claim to have “renegotiated” the UK’s terms of EU membership.
#Cameron cannot demand a unilateral derogation from the #EU treaties.Tweet This
He has also discovered that he cannot demand a unilateral derogation from EU primary law, which consists mainly of the EU’s founding treaties. And he now seems to realize that to try to change ordinary EU legislation is too risky and lengthy a process because of the mandatory involvement of the European Commission and European Parliament.
So the British government’s constant reiteration of the need for an “irreversible” and “legally binding” guarantee to underpin any renegotiation is simply crazy. A declaration of the European Council is not a guarantee. Even a promissory note formulated in a decision of the council and shelved with the UN does not constitute part of the EU’s formal procedure for treaty change.
There is no precedent for an EU member state to seek suddenly (and for no good reason) to breach its existing treaty obligations. The astonishing thing is that the Tories have missed their chance to articulate a serious alternative to full EU membership. Now, it’s panic stations—an ugly spectacle that is turning the hapless British public increasingly cynical.
Michael EmersonAssociate senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies
Absolutely not. But Britain’s remaining in the EU is not a done deal either. There are three hazardous uncertainties along the way to a potential Brexit: Can British Prime Minister David Cameron do a deal with the EU on the terms of the UK’s membership? Can he sell that deal to his own party? And will the referendum to be held by 2017 deliver the desired result?
The first task seems now to be the easiest, since Cameron has greatly moderated his demands. His quest for reforms in the area of the EU single market and for better regulation can be accepted by all of his EU partners. But they will reject his request for guarantees for the City of London if it looks like Britain will have a veto over any financial market measures, and he has to be careful over intra-EU migration.
#Cameron's gamble looks more and more like an ominous game of Russian roulette.Tweet This
The second challenge will be very tricky as most Conservative members of parliament want more than what Cameron is asking for in his renegotiation efforts. The risk of rebellion by many Tory parliamentarians and several cabinet ministers is serious, in which case the message to voters in the referendum will be very confused and conflictual.
The third uncertainty is the most hazardous of all. The polls are highly unstable and vulnerable to sharp influences by irrelevant features of the political context at the time the polls are held. British and international business interests overwhelmingly support the UK remaining in the EU, but Euroskeptics are putting huge waves of disinformation into the media, and the popular press itself is mostly in favor of Brexit. Cameron’s gamble looks more and more like an ominous game of Russian roulette.
Denis MacShaneFormer UK minister for Europe
At the beginning of 2015, I published a book called Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe, which I completely updated following David Cameron’s return to No. 10 after the general election in May. But I see no reason to revise my core thesis that Brexit is now more, not less, likely to happen than before.
There are currents in the UK that are leading to #Brexit.Tweet This
There are currents or force fields in the UK that are leading to Brexit. Politically, the governing Conservative Party adopted Euroskepticism as a core party value in 1997, and there is no government minister who makes a consistent case in favor of the EU. The rise of the Euroskeptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), the virtual disappearance of the centrist Liberal Democrats, and the critique of the economically liberal EU by the new Labour leadership encourage Brexit.
The UK’s mass-circulation papers are anti-EU. The Guardian has published major pro-Brexit comments by columnist Sir Simon Jenkins and two popular left-wing journalists, Paul Mason and Owen Jones.
The business community has scorned the low-growth, sclerotic EU of the twenty-first century as “bossy and bureaucratic,” to use Cameron’s favorite description. Regaining control of national frontiers appeals to many as they look at mass movements of economic migrants or refugees. Most monolingual Brits feel closer to the Anglosphere than to continental Europe. Opinion polls show more, not less, drift toward Brexit.
I hope a British exit from the EU does not happen, but as the Cassandra of the pro-Europeans in Britain, I fear it will.
David McAllisterChair of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the United States and member of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs
British Prime Minister David Cameron has now made it clear. If the United Kingdom left the European Union, he said, it would be “a 1-way ticket, not a return.” This is why the UK needs an intensive debate about the country’s role in the EU. Growing populism and a lack of adequate information about the advantages of the EU could strengthen anti-European forces and—in my opinion, the greatest risk of all—lead to an accidental exit.
The #UK should be leading, not leaving, the EU.Tweet This
The outcome of the referendum due by 2017 is, of course, completely unpredictable. The upcoming campaign will focus on the implications of a Brexit for UK prosperity. Pro-Europeans as well as EU opponents will base many of their arguments on economic aspects. To convince the British people to remain in the EU, a fair deal must be sought. This should be a deal that acknowledges the UK’s important role in the EU and at the same time allows other member states to integrate further. The EU single market is the largest export market for British businesses, allowing them to grow, invest, and create new jobs. The UK is a driving force supporting free trade, completing the single market, fighting red tape, and making European economies more competitive.
The UK should be leading, not leaving, the EU. As a German Christian Democrat, I firmly believe Britain and Germany have common values and political ideas. Britain is stronger in Europe—and Europe is stronger with Britain.
Milan NičManaging director of the Central European Policy Institute
No, Britain’s renegotiation with the EU is still an open process with an uncertain outcome. Substantial discussions in the EU will start only in early November 2015, when Prime Minister David Cameron spells out specific British demands in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk. December’s summit of EU leaders will provide an initial indication of which demands will be the hardest to negotiate.
Observers are told that the quality of the deal matters to London more than its timing, so expect a prolonged timetable well into 2016. Polls indicate that if Cameron gets a good enough deal, he will be able to sway a majority of British voters in favor of staying in the EU in the referendum due by the end of 2017.
A deterioration of the migration crisis could overwhelm EU leaders.Tweet This
Meanwhile, so many things can get out of control—on both sides. A deterioration of the migration crisis could overwhelm EU leaders even further. Will such a weakened EU and its leaders have enough determination, time, and capacity to work constructively with London on compromises acceptable to both sides?
Central European leaders will have their own redlines on the free movement of people and welfare benefits for EU migrants. But the Visegrád Group as a whole—consisting of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—is likely to follow Warsaw’s lead on the details. An unclear timetable for British talks is already causing a headache for Slovakia, which is preparing to assume its first six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2016.