United Kingdom: conflict with Europe

Donald Tusk recently posted on twitter “we have achieved a legally binding and irreversible deal decided on by all 28 leaders, strengthening Britain’s special status in the EU”. The origin of the dispute that Great Britain has with the EU has gone on for many years. The general discontent of the British public has contributed to the rise of protest parties such as Ukip, that paradoxically got more representation in the EU parliament than in the House of Commons, mainly due to the diffent attitude to EU elections and the difference between the first-past-the-post system of the Uk and the proportional representation system of the European Parliament.

Mr Cameron’s week in Brussels is reminiscent of the tough negotiations that Mrs Thatcher went through over the money that the UK contributed to the EU. She famously said “I want my money back”  because she thought that the EU was too expensive for Britain. She also vowed to oppose “a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels” in 1988 (as journalist James Kirkup wrote up in his article Margaret Thatcher: Conflict over Europe led to final battle). The United Kingdom has had a difficult relationship with the EU and it is mainly because though it is a very influential state, it does not have a leading role in decision making and resents various European “intrusions” into British sovereignty.

On the 10 of November David Cameron addressed a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. The first point in this letter is that the EU has to accept that there are countries that do not have the Euro, and that those countries that chose to have their own currency should not be at a disadvantage. A second point that the British PM makes is that there is too much burden put on businesses and that, though we all want growth and more jobs, the EU has to help the “free flow of capital, goods and services”. Thirdly, the ongoing debate in the Uk is on the issue of sovereignty, the  main worry is that the EU parliament has more power than national parliaments. As a solution the PM quotes the  maxim that has been proposed by the dutch ”Europe where necessary, nations where possible”.

However, the main concern that David Cameron raises is the problem with inmigration, that in his view has placed a tremendous strain on the NHS and Schools. The Prime Minister states that the Uk receives over 300,000 inmigrants every year, and that the Uk is going to become the most populous country in the EU by 2050 (thought it has to be mentioned that a lot of inmigration to the Uk comes from countries that are not part of the EU). The European Union in Camerons words needs to ensure that member states that join the EU, should have economies that are up to level with the rest of the community in order for them not to have a gigantic exodus of qualified professionals who leave for the UK.

David Cameron’s letter and his negotiations in Brussels have gone well, he will call and campaing for continued membership of the European Union. Promoting the idea that we want to continue in the “reformed” EU because it is in our business and national defence interests and because David Cameron has obtained a “special status” for the UK, so we get the best of both worlds.

On the 23rd June the referendum on EU membership for the UK will be held. It is the Prime Minister’s third referendum after the one held on Scottish Independence in 2014 and the referendum on the electoral system in 2011. On that previous occasion he had the full backing of his political party. He now faces dissent from his party, as 6 ministers, including a former head of the conservative party openly state support for Brexit. It is important to note that it is a crucial moment for the United Kingdom and that the decision that comes out of this referendum will have long lasting effects whatever the result.

To quote Michael Foot, the former leader of the Labour Party “We cannot have democracy in Europe at the expense of democracy in Britain” the problem is that it seems to have taken too long to decide Britains situation in Europe. To my mind the current situation opens up fundamental questions on the systems of power, on the question of legality, and the status of sovereignty and personal freedom.

Patrick Breeze, degree in Humanities.

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