Moving to the Right?: Cameron to Consider Vote on EU

Francis Pitt 

Image © Nick Atkins Photography

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron has stated that he is prepared to consider a vote on Britain’s relationship with the European Union, adding that an in/out referendum is not what the majority of the British public “most wanted”. Britain’s relationship with its partners across the channel has always been complex and Cameron now wants to add yet another chapter to this book.

Before I carry on, I must clarify my own position on the European Union. I am a passionate supporter of Britain in Europe and studied the European Union for my undergraduate degree. I have also enjoyed studying in Europe as part of the European Union’s Erasmus Exchange Programme. For me, Britain should be integrating further into the union, and not turning its back on our European partners.

Britain’s history with Europe has been on a bumpy road, with Britain acting as the stroppy child sitting in the back seat of the car, constantly asking the drivers (France and Germany) “are we there yet?” When the forerunner of the European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community, was founded, Europe was still recovering from the aftermath of World War Two and Britain refused to join the club.  It was not until 1973 when Britain was finally admitted to the community in its first expansion, along with Denmark and Ireland. But almost from the start, the question of whether the UK should remain in Europe came to the fore when the 1975 referendum on continued membership took place. However, back then the British public was far more pro-European than today, as 67% of the voters backed Britain’s continued membership. The following 37 years have seen Britain refuse to give up the rebate, join the single currency (although this might be a blessing in disguise in hindsight), and have recently decided to use their veto.

Britain has managed to get to this position by constantly dragging their feet over practically every EU decision or treaty. In 2011, Cameron vetoed joining a new European treaty on fiscal discipline, in order to protect the City. The move left Britain more isolated in Europe and even drew criticism from the Archbishop of Canterbury

But why has Cameron chosen now to make the announcement that he is “prepared” to consider an EU referendum? Partly it is down to trying to regain the core Conservative vote, which has become disillusioned with the Prime Minister. It is a clear move to the right to try and woo back voters who have turned to UKIP. It is also a move to appease the anti-European press. For his part, Cameron believes that he is giving the British people a “real choice”.

However, many Euro-sceptics in Britain have a negative view on the European Union largely because of the constant negative coverage in the British media. The Daily Express ran a campaign for a vote on Britain’s future in the EU by encouraging their readers to sign a government e-petition, calling for a referendum on membership.  The British press has horror stories of what the EU is “forcing” on Britain, so much so that there is a section of the EU website, debunking these myths.

Britain cannot withdraw from Europe completely, given the way the UK economy is so interwoven with the EU. Out of Britain’s top ten major trading partners, eight are members of the European Union, and Britain could lose the benefits of the single market should they withdraw partially or completely from EU, massively hurting the already weak British economy. The decisions made by the EU will affect Britain, regardless of whether Cameron likes it or not and surely it is better to shape these decisions from being at the heart of Europe, rather than moaning about them from the sidelines. Britain cannot stand on the White Cliffs of Dover with its back to Europe and pretend it’s not there. However, the European Union is far from perfect, and is currently going through the biggest crisis in its history. This presents Britain with the perfect opportunity to reshape the Union into something that suits it better; but it cannot do this from the outside.

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