To Brexit or not to Brexit

It should not have needed a visiting > U.S. President to puncture the arguments of eurosceptic Britons, who believe their country is better off outside the European Union (EU). But so strong is the hold of Britain’s history as an imperial power that the prospect of a destiny inside Europe, that too one driven by a > dominant Franco-German alliance, is deeply unpalatable to sections of the political class. For all the fury and noise over the referendum in June, the question whether to stay inside or leave the bloc has cast a long and troublesome shadow on a country that joined the EU in 1973 under a Conservative Prime Minister. When the Labour leader Harold Wilson won public approval for that step in a 1975 referendum, the hope was that the overwhelming mandate would be irreversible. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the debate is far from over. Years on, Prime Minister David Cameron finds himself in Wilson’s shoes. His Conservative backbenchers forced his hand on a U.K. vote on continued > EU membership and prominent Cabinet colleagues are now spearheading the leave campaign. Now, as in 1975, the main argument against membership is the perceived loss of national sovereignty. At the heart of the issue is what Brexit could mean for the workforce. There are over two million EU immigrants working in Britain today, a body of people that not only provides it with critical skills but also contributes to its tax kitty. Could Brexit lead to an exodus among such people? On the other hand, immigration has become a key element in the eurosceptic armoury, acquiring renewed potency following the large inflow of refugees from Syria into the EU. The exit camp is exploiting the cracks in EU policy over their rehabilitation to frontally attack the free movement principle underlying the Schengen borderless travel zone.

The objectives of the U.K.’s membership of the EU have always been primarily economic rather than political. It is apparent that these interests are better served if London assumes its rightful place at the European high table. Non-EU members Norway and Switzerland have access to the bloc’s internal market, but no voice in shaping its laws. Such an arrangement may not befit a country with the wealth and influence of Britain. As a result, a measure of euroscepticism has existed side by side with London’s desire to stake out special positions in key areas. This was reflected most recently in the package that Mr. Cameron negotiated ahead of the referendum to protect London’s status as a financial hub. The exemption from adopting the single currency and participation in the Schengen area are the other major opt-outs from common policies. The champions of Brexit have taken exception to the U.S. President expressing his opinion on the referendum. But they would surely know that from Washington’s standpoint the “special relationship” with Britain would carry real meaning only if it translates into an effective voice inside the EU, the world’s largest single trading bloc.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 1:53:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/To-Brexit-or-not-to-Brexit/article14255337.ece

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