As Push Comes to Shove, UK is Still Part of the EU

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/02/2011 08:25:00 PM
Britain's place in Europe has never been quite at its centre. In particular UK Conservatives are usually viewed--with more than a smidgen of justification--as the most Eurosceptic of mainstream British parties. The graphic to the left requires little explanation as the supposed diminution of national freedoms in the EU is a constant Eurosceptic theme. Recall rather far-fetched plans [1, 2] to scupper the Lisbon Treaty circa 2009 by waiting for David Cameron to succeed Gordon Brown and force a UK referendum that would most likely have resulted in a big NO. (At that time, the Murdoch machine was still a force to be reckoned with there and would have undoubtedly done all it could to ensure EU anti-monopoly regulations would not constrain its UK media operations.)

Times change, however--sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. On the favourable side, Murdoch's grip on British politics has weakened over his media empire's infamous phone hacking practices offending common decency. On the unfavourable side, Europe's peripheral economies have dragged the whole integration enterprise into some disrepute. So the Tories are faced with two factors pushing their views in different directions: while the need to satisfy Uncle Rupert's EU-hating whims are on the wane, many in the UK increasingly believe they are being dragged into a fiasco they chose not to participate in (by keeping the British pound).

The Independent has a new article discussing how David Cameron is actually keen on staying in the EU that I will try to explain further afterwards:
Prime Minister David Cameron today said he would not support a referendum on UK membership of the European Union. It was revealed today that MPs are set to vote on a referendum within the next few months, after a petition with more than 100,000 signatures was submitted calling for the public to be given the chance to decide whether Britain should stay in the EU.

Speaking at the start of the Conservative Party in Manchester, Mr Cameron said he did not believe the UK should quit the EU. And he played down the prospect of the Government repatriating powers from Brussels in the near future. The Government's immediate priority on Europe is to get the crisis in the eurozone sorted out and revive the continent's economy, he said.
The Eurosceptic idea is to force a reluctant Cameron to hold a referendum on EU membership if voted for in the House of Commons. Despite not being binding, such a result would pressure him to do so--or so they hope. However, Cameron explains UK membership in terms of mostly economic benefits:
"They have got to do that now and get ahead of the markets now, irrespective of the changes the eurozone might choose to make in the future about having more economic co-operation, which I suspect they will need." And he added: "The Government's priority right now is to sort out the eurozone, get the European economies growing again.

"Let's get the single market working properly, because there are huge things we could do in Europe to help promote growth in Britain - get the single market in energy, finish the single market in services, open up European markets, make sure that we stop the costs that are being piled onto British business through the EU. Let's stop all of that."
Cameron & Co. have famously been dubbed the "children of Thatcher"--the lady who famously slammed her handbag in protest of perceived EU encroachments on British sovereignty. Yet while the UK has whinged about the size of its contributions (especially that which goes to ag subsidies) and the EU regulations foisted upon it (such as discontinuance of environmentally unfriendly incandescent bulbs), it remains a clear beneficiary of liberalization with the continent.

Which, of course, is keeping with how Thatcher imagined European Union: promoting the free movement of goods, services, and capital without sacrificing considerable domestic policymaking efficacy. The Conservatives would like more of the latter to be repatriated from Brussels, but they are constrained in this area by his junior coalition (and pro-Europe) partners the Liberal Democrats:
The Conservative leadership remained keen to repatriate powers from Brussels, but was "constrained" by the fact that they are in coalition with Liberal Democrats, he said. "This is a party that is committed to the return of powers from the EU to the UK," said [Foreign Secretary] Mr Hague. "We are constrained by being in a coalition on that subject, but that is something that I still believe in." He added: "It may well be one of the dividing lines in the general election."
Nuff said (for now).