By Alex Orr
With UKIP and backbench Tories nipping at his heels, Mr Cameron has been forced into a referendum on the UK’s future relationship with the EU – In or Out – if the Tories win the next General Election in 2015. A vote he could do well without, and ironically coming the day after the 40th anniversary of the UK’s signing of the Accession Treaty to join the then EEC.
What we now have, during the worst economic recession in our history, is a destabilizing 4 years of uncertainty that will make overseas companies look twice at the UK as somewhere to invest, and this will have a particular impact on Scotland’s open, export oriented economy. Over half of the UK’s trade is with the EU and 3.5 million British jobs are linked, directly or indirectly, to our trade with other member states.
Mr Cameron is seeking to repatriate powers on issues such as social and employment laws, policing and crime measures, but in order to renegotiate on these issues and hold a referendum by his pledged deadline of the end of 2017 is impossible, as he well knows. The chance of any meaningful renegotiation being agreed to by the other 27 member states is even less likely.
As a Brussels regular it is clear to me that the French and Germans and most other member states have no desire to re-open Treaties which have been years in the making, to allow for British demands. The Finnish Prime Minister has likened it to “picking raisins out of the EU bun”, a view most recently reinforced by former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, who described the UK’s negotiating position as “impossible”.
Mr Cameron is taking a dangerous gamble, believing that by holding a gun to the head of Brussels bureaucrats and to national governments he can get what he wants under threat of the UK leaving. But this is based on a rather over-inflated view of the UK’s influence within the EU. For many member states the loss of Britain from the EU club would not be a negative, but a benefit, the loss of an obstructive lodger who brings more trouble than she is worth.
Alex Orr is a Board Member of the European Movement