Breferendum on Brixit: United Kingdom Risks Becoming Irrelevant

It is rumoured that PM David Cameron is planning to hold a referendum on the so called Brixit in June 2016 (other rumours said it would be held in October 2016). This way or another, United Kingdom is probably one year from a crucial vote. And the real question to be answered by Britons is not whether or not to stay in the European Union, but rather – to make it a Shakespearean matter – to be, or not to be a relevant European and global power.

David Cameron announced a referendum in January 2013 and vowed to agitate for a reformed EU and, as a consequence, to agitate – too – for staying in a reformed EU. PM Cameron succumbed to pressure from nationalist & xenophobic UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party led by Euro MP Nigel Farage) and his own hard-right backbenchers. Thus he put himself into very uncomfortable position of arguing for a stay in the EU, while large chunks of  his own Conservative Party remain, at best, skeptical on this issue. We do not even know what is Mr Cameron’s own position on EU vote – if he is seriously or just half-heartedly committed to united Europe.

Polish reference

His situation resembles in some way current situation in Poland, which is going to hold a referendum on three domestic issues in September. One of those issues is a change in electoral laws from proportional representation to single-member districts modeled on British system. There is an irony here, as Britons themselves were somehow dissatisfied with their electoral laws after recent parliamentary elections, because millions of votes transformed into a handful of MPs, while in Scotland merely half the number of abovementioned votes gave one party few dozen of mandates in the House of Commons. However, a segment of Polish society is so angry with all of current political parties that they want a major overhaul of electoral laws and they won first battle, i.e. the referendum on this issue was announced after first round of presidential elections, after a candidate vowing for single-member districts won, surprisingly, more than 20% of total votes, which gave him a solid third place. But let’s get back to the United Kingdom.

So why is the vote on Brixit so crucial and why UK is risking an international irrelevance if it chose to leave the UE?

Firstly, one has to come to terms with the dynamic of global system and changes its undergoing for a while now. Europe is steadily losing its position as economical and demographic reasons tilt power towards Asia. China is a great power at her own rights, but there is at least a dozen of states that are quickly developing and moving into upper tier of global power system. Although United Kingdom (as well as France) is still in the top 10 club in areas such as GDP & military budget, it is almost certain that those positions cannot be kept in the long term. That is why UK and France, which are both permanent members of UN Security Council, are much better off inside EU than staying at their own. In an era of more and more international cooperation and establishment of permanent (e.g. ASEAN) or quasi (e.g. BRICS) international organizations, it is very unwise to move into opposite direction. Outside of EU (but still inside NATO), the UK may live pretty secure & safe, but largely irrelevant political life at the sidelines of global system. Without any leverage in Brussels (and with slim chances of changing the course of US politics), London could simply be ignored by major players.

Secondly, make no mistake that many benefits of being a member of the UE will be kept for United Kingdom if it chooses to go. The mood in Europe would be very unfriendly towards anything that is British and no privileged status for London’s interests is possible. As employers, businesses and City bankers say almost in unison – leaving the EU would seriously harm UK’s economy.

Thirdly, a NO vote could transform into internal turmoil, as Scotland is overwhelmingly in favor of staying in the EU – remember that the independence campaign before referendum in 2014 was based on an independent Scotland in a strong European Union. So Brixit may lead to a breakdown of a 300-year old union and restoration of fully independent Scotland.

Moreover, Brixit would greatly undercut US power in Europe, of which the UK is an exponent. That is why US President Barack Obama recently warned Britons about their upcoming vote on EU membership. Although Washington has many installations and bases in other EU countries, such as Germany or Italy, United Kingdom is crucial for US military presence in Europe. This presence would probably stay untouched (and most of the EU countries are simultaneously members of NATO), but Washington would lose much of its political leverage in Brussels. Russia is only waiting for this to happen and champagne is already chilling for a US-Trojan horse, as some depict United Kingdom, exits from the EU. Brixit would thus greatly reverberate in continental Europe, altering balance of power in Europe as a whole, in the EU itself – and changing EU’s foreign policy.

One can easily find dozens of other arguments, also those countering abovementioned ones, but what is certain in Brixit Breferendum is that the stakes of the vote are much higher than simply saying NO to the EU. Happily for those concerned with negative consequences of Brixit, recent polls suggest that a NO vote is rather in  a sci-fi domain than a serious threat. But this can quickly change and a countdown to the referendum may be stressful for some people inside & outside the British Isles. The not-so-splendid-isolation is the least of problems that Europe & Britons would face after Brixit moves from sci-fi domain into reality.

Piotr Wolejko

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