Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

A BREXIT FOR TWO

If after the referendum Great Britain decides to leave the EU, the first victim will be London because Scotland and Wales want to stay

While most of the Europe is waging a fight against Islamic terrorism, the more secluded part of the continent is waging a war that has different objectives and was named "the new Battle of Britain". The ceasefire is expected to occur on June 26th when a referendum on whether London will stay in the European Union will be held. And in the case of "Brexit," the finale is already written because there are two Unions that could be destroyed: perhaps that of Europe, but certainly the one known as Great Britain. 

 

Timothy Garton Ash recently wrote that if Britons vote to exit, the Scots will vote to leave the UK, and then there will be no Britain. Meanwhile, the shocking consequences of “Brexit” for a continent already staggering under many other crises could spell the beginning of the end of the Brussels pact.

Professor Ash is asking, for the sake of Europe, to enter this ‘good fight’ and not just because Scots and Welsh would leave if London decides to withdraw from the EU project. The second reason is that according to the professor, the only beneficiaries of this outcome would be Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the leader of French Front National, Marie Le Pen. “Need I say more?”, asked Ash,  thinking this must be good enough for Britons to consider before casting their votes to exit.

The right to vote in the forthcoming referendum goes to British citizens: residents in the UK and residents who have been overseas for less than 15 years. Then also to citizens of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus resident in the UK, Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK, and Commonwealth citizens resident in Gibraltar. All of them, together with immigrants, are under the fire of an in/out campaign focus. However, the real problem seems to be that the vote will be determined by fear, ignorance or pure boredom toward the European institutions, perceived by the British as a stupid math teacher who knows only how to wag a finger to signal errors. In short, this European Union doesn’t work, and as this feeling mounts economic considerations are likely to be overshadowed, even in a country historically pragmatic like Britain.

“The Economist” recently analyzed the reasons for and against the EU. The two campaigns, "Britain Stronger in Europe" and "Vote Leave", that are likely to form the official lobby groups for each side in the referendum, have set out their positions on the main topics that will form the basis for the referendum. In the table that shows the main points of the in/out campaign, “The Economist” presented five areas of interest starting from one point: concerning EU budget every British family pays  340 pounds a year, compared with an estimated 3,000 pounds yearly benefit of membership. From this point of view, therefore, the convenience of "Bremen" would be obvious, but in fact, the in/out campaign is going to be played with emotions and frustrations.

In trade, Britain avoids exporters’ tariffs and red tape on 45% of British exports that go to EU, but for “outers” Britain will negotiate a new EU relationship without being bound by EU law. It can secure trade deals with other important countries such as China, India and America. Moreover, for those who want “Brexit”, London can cut their weekly 350 million pound contribution to Brussels, equivalent to half England’s school budget, as this money could be spent on scientific research and new industries.

Other opposing arguments concern European regulations, labor laws, and stock exchange rules, but the contentious issues are such as political influence and immigration (once again, themes affected by emotional perceptions). According to “Europeists,” as an EU member Britain  doubles its power through actual membership and through the EU high representative status. On the opposite side, “outers” claim that London has little influence within the EU. From outside, they think, Britain can retake seats in international institutions and exert a stronger influence on free trade and co-operation. “Outers” also believe that Britain can change the “expensive and out of control” system that offers an open door to the EU, and will block non-EU immigrants.

“The British never fell in love with the European project. As their neighbors moved toward closer union, Britain became known for its instinctive ‘Euroscepticism’. It was the awkward partner that had only reluctantly joined, neither fully embracing the broader vision that united Berlin, Paris and Rome nor adopting the single currency that followed,” wrote Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner and op-ed “New York Times” opinion maker. And this goes not from British passion, as usually thought, but out of the fullness of the pragmatism that Britain is famous for. Above all, one must bear in mind that Brits are traditionally conservative thinkers who never felt comfortable with immigration and demographic changes. “The most recent figure available put net migration into Britain at an annual record high of 330,000,” wrote Krugman.  

The case for close economic integration within Europe is huge. For Britain to be pulling out of it is a bad thing economically. The European project of peace and prosperity through integration is critical. Even if the currency was a bad idea. The broader project is still very critical. “Britain needs Europe and Europe needs Britain,” says Krugman. He was nevertheless one of the fiercest critics of misconceived and disastrous austerity policies that actually led to catastrophic results in Southern Europe. But, from his point of view EU must change instead of being dismantled.

Last but not least, the British will need to consider another issue which again has to do with fear: the fight against terror. In the debate, voices could be heard advocating being part of the European security system since Europe has entered a very long period of hyper-terrorism, as French PM averred at the Munich security conference. In the months to come, the debate over the in/out referendum questions will turn into a real battle, actually against fear. More than purely economic arguments that could result in an equal number of votes pro et contra Brexit. It seems that policy makers might have overlooked the real issue: what do people think about this and, once their fears are awakened, which way will it go?

One thing is for sure. If in the end “Brexit” really occurs, the EU project will be laid to rest, with unprecedented consequences. In such a situation, will Britons be ready to declare the end of both Unions?

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