Hang in there, Prime Minister.
Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has once again found himself in a challenging position, rivaling the too-close-for-comfort referendum rejecting Scottish Independence by a 55.3 percent “no” vote.
Faced with threats of resignation from members of his conservative Cabinet, Cameron has allowed pro-Brexit campaigning to go forward, causing a rift in his party between himself, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (basically the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, just somehow more “posh” sounding) and some more boisterous party members, including London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Brexit refers to the potential exit of Britain from the European Union, to be decided in a nation-wide referendum this upcoming June. While there is widespread consensus in the U.K. that reforms to the European Union should be made, Cameron has stated that leaving the E.U. is “not the right answer,” and that he is in support of Britain staying in a reformed European Union.
As such, the stakes for him to deliver a “better deal” for Britain during the Brussels summit negotiations of this past month were higher than ever, The Guardian reporting nights where the Prime Minister got just three hours of sleep. In some areas, such as migrants’ benefits, however, some fear he has fallen short.
Britain has always been sort of an odd partner of the European Union and the mainland European community in general, with the strait separating England and France often considered the longest 21 miles in the world. In the aftermath of World War II, Britain found itself in a unique position on the international stage.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill sitting alongside President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at the victors’ table, Churchill eager to foster what has become known as a “special” relationship between the U.K. and the United States. This new strategic positioning, bolster of British pride and character and post-war recovery initiative and welfare programs gave the U.K. and internal focus.
When the European Coal and Steel Community and European Economic Community were formed in 1951 and 1958, respectively, Britain was relatively uninterested. Seeing the benefits as well as the inevitability of European integration, however Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made the controversial move to apply for membership, which was vetoed in large part due to Britain’s close ties to the United States.
Great Britain was finally admitted in 1973, however not too long after Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher, distraught about what she saw as a “Britain in decline”, sought to reassert Britain’s power on the world stage and with such a goal became increasingly anti-European – which famously resulted in the 1984 UK budget rebate she won from the E.U.
Those who are pro-Brexit feel as though, throughout the European Union’s history, Britain has not gotten fair deals, and that the community undermines national sovereignty. There is certainly some truth in this. It must be acknowledged, the powers and scope of the European Union are more expansive in nature – the E.U. being a confederation of states (some strong proponents hoping it grows more towards a federation, European version of the “United States” model), in contrast to the United Nations.
Leaving the European Union, however, would be a mistake and is not in Britain’s best interest. First is the British economy. As part of the European Union, Britain enjoys being part of an $18.5 trillion economy. When people think of Britain, they think of London, which is undoubtedly one of the largest and most successful financial hubs of the world.
London is not representative of the entire economy of Britain, however; leaving the European Union would cause a large economic shock. The Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics predicted a 6.3 to 9.5 percent decrease in GDP if they choose to leave. Furthermore, it is likely that Scotland’s desire for independence would be refueled, which would be another massive economic, as well as psychological, hit.
The U.K.’s sovereignty remains a common and compelling Brexit argument (it’s a bit ironic writing about Great Britain’s desire for more independence while in the United States). As written in an Op-Ed for The Economist, “real sovereignty is relative” in 21st century international relations: “a country that refuses outright to pool authority is one that has no control over the pollution drifting over its borders, the standards of financial regulations of the economy.”
The understanding and brand of sovereignty championed by the likes of Boris Johnson is idealistic in nature. Crippled by debt and without a seat at important negotiating tables, Britain will in fact have become more dependent on stronger states and have less of a say over the course of its country’s future – for example, the nature of the Syrian refugee crisis requires international cooperation.
The European Union is not a perfect organization, however, it is necessary that Britain remains a member. Britain’s relationship with the European Union has become somewhat of a symbolic struggle, with some Brexit rhetoric borrowing upon mythic World War II imagery. As Beppe Severgnini writes for the New York Times, however, “To be alone against enemies in 1940 was heroic. To be alone among friends in 2016 would be absurd.”