Alphen, Netherlands, 24 July. “Having the UK in the EU gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union”. The British media, particularly the slavishly pro-EU BBC, is full of President Obama’s call yesterday for Britain to remain within the EU. The slant the story has been given suggests Obama is telling Britain to remain within the EU if it wants to retain influence in Europe, the wider world, and more critically Washington. In fact, in the interview Obama is far more circumspect and far from interfering in British internal affairs he merely expresses the US national interest. Equally, Obama again highlights three questions central to the Brexit debate. Can Britain retain its wider influence via its EU membership if Britain has little or no influence in the EU? Could Britain’s influence survive a Brexit? Is a fair deal for Britain in the coming post-Eurozone crisis EU possible?
Can Britain retain its wider influence via its EU membership if Britain has little or no influence in the EU? The answer is a clear no. Not surprisingly the EU warts and all lobby are going ballistic this morning. The central argument of this lobby, which is routinely trotted out at gatherings of the ‘great and good’, is that ‘given’ Britain’s future is in ‘Europe’ the EU must be accepted for what it is warts and all and at whatever cost to the British taxpayer. The failure of the EU warts and all lobby is their supine refusal to accept that the status quo is indefensible. It is change within the Eurozone that is shifting the relationship towards costs and and away from benefits and that consequently Britain occupies a political position in and on the EU that is fast disappearing. Consequently, there is a very real danger that the 2017 Brexit referendum (or whenever it takes place) will settle nothing with none of the fundamental issues now at stake properly addressed.
Could Britain’s influence survive a Brexit? Yes, although no member of the EU warts and all lobby have ever answered or wanted to answer this question. With political will Britain the world’s fifth biggest economy and a top five military power, with the world’s most extensive and possibly most experienced diplomatic representation, free to make its own agreements and alliances. could and would prosper as an independent country. Period.
Is a fair deal for Britain in the coming post-Eurozone crisis EU possible? Possibly, but much would need to change in Britain’s relationship with the EU. Indeed, this is the key ‘fairness’ question and goes to the heart of Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate Britain’s membership of a changing EU. For all the obfuscation of the Foreign Office’s every which way but loose Balance of Competences review the simple fact is that the EU is not fair to Britain. Membership costs Britain roughly £20bn per annum whilst Britain suffers a trade deficit with the rest of the EU worth some £52bn, partly due to blocks placed by Germany and others on the Services Directive and by extension the fulfilment of a really single, Single Market.
Worse, Britain finds itself in a permanent minority with its interests routinely and increasingly trodden into the ground by an unholy alliance of Eurozone members and the European Commission. Last week the Commission arbitrarily, simply and unilaterally rewrote a binding 2010 agreement preventing the use of British taxpayer’s money to fund the latest Greek bailout. Late last year Britain was slapped with a huge additional bill by the Commission following a ‘reassessment’ of the size of the British economy to include the proceeds of crime. Naturally, France and Germany received reduced bills from the Commission.
Therefore, if President Obama believes it an imperative American interest for Britain to remain in the EU then he needs to swing the full weight of US diplomacy behind Cameron’s efforts to get a fair deal for Britain in the EU. First and foremost that means supporting Cameron openly to end the dangerous political fantasy of ‘ever closer union’ and support the idea of the EU as a super-alliance of free and independent nation-states (which I support) rather than super-state. As the eternal Eurozone crisis demonstrates political adventurism that is not grounded in political and economic reality is fast leading Europe and indeed the wider “transatlantic union” towards ruin.
Thereafter, the Americans must support Cameron in his pursuit of the objectives laid out in his January 2013 Bloomsberg speech; the creation of a competitive EU via a Single Market that is really ‘single’, a flexible EU that scraps the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy that traps Europeans between a federal ‘Europe’ and a Europe of nation-states; an EU that respects national parliamentary sovereignty and which only acts when collective action is agreed and necessary; an EU that respects democracy and is open and accountable to the people, which today is not the case; and a new political relationship between Eurozone and non-Eurozone members that if not agreed would effectively condemn the latter to taxation without representation. Remember that Yanks?
Above all, President Obama must also face the contradictions inherent in his own position. First, that a Britain forced to accept membership at any cost of an EU that is fast moving away from London’s long-held idea of ‘Europe’ as a trading bloc far from reinforcing British clout will simply destroy it. Second, that the EU will a) evolve into a United States of Europe not unlike the United States of America; and b) that a ‘US of E’ would be pro-American. As the Greek debt crisis has shown the former is extremely unlikely and the latter by no means assured.
President Obama might also wish to avoid the charge of hypocrisy by insisting in his support for the British people the same principles that underpin American liberty – government by the people, of the people and for the people. Finally, President Obama may also wish to ask himself one other question this morning; is he happy to impose a political settlement on the British people that he would never dream of imposing on the American people. If he is then he is no democrat.
Failure by the US to support Britain’s search for fairness WITHIN the EU could well accelerate Britain’s departure from it.