EU Membership: A Defining Moment Approaches for Britain
Britain should sign the EU reform treaty or seriously consider leaving the Union. That was the essence of remarks made this week by German politician Elmar Brok, the European Parliament’s representative on inter-governmental negotiations for the treaty.
Brok’s comments were more than haphazard, abrasive musings by a marginal EU figure. They were planned, pointed and timely. More importantly, they represent the collective mindset of the increasingly angry EU leadership, which perceives the British government to be slothful and undetermined.
The German member of parliament made his remarks at a time when pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to conduct a national referendum on whether Britain should sign the EU reform treaty—a move that would almost certainly result in Britons rejecting the treaty, which could destabilize the entire EU if other member nations follow suit and put the thorny issue before their voters.
In his comments, Brok insisted a referendum was unnecessary because the new draft, signed by EU member nations in June, was significantly different from the “old” constitution and that Britain “got what it wanted” with a series of opt-outs and “red lines” built into the document. “Gordon Brown’s government has said there is no justification for a referendum and the UK should stick to this commitment,” Brok warned in a clear shot across the bow of No. 10 Downing Street.
The controversy surrounding this referendum question is significant. European politicians will be furious if Mr. Brown decides to put the issue before his people. The British public will be furious if he doesn’t. Ultimately this is a lose-lose scenario for Gordon Brown.
If Mr. Brown denies his people a referendum, they will likely oust him from government and put in a pm who is willing to give them a chance to vote against further European integration. At home, polls and surveys consistently show that Mr. Brown stands to lose a great amount of support among the British people, as well as within his own party, if he refuses to take the issue to referendum. One recent Daily Mail poll showed that 80 percent of Labor Party voters and 82 percent of voters overall are asking for a referendum on whether or not to accept the treaty (EUobserver, August 20). The decision to forgo a referendum is almost certainly an act of political suicide.
If Brown approves a referendum, the British people will almost certainly vote “no” to further integration into the EU. British and European politicians alike are acutely aware that a referendum would almost certainly defeat the EU treaty. Such an outcome would severely injure, and most likely usher in the end of, Britain’s 34-year membership in the EU. It would not only deepen the wedge between London and Brussels, but could also easily ignite a wave of national referendums across Europe, throwing a spanner in the works for the entire European Union project.
This is the reason Elmar Brok and others have begun to question the need for Britain to participate in the EU at all.
“The UK got its various opt-outs, so what’s the problem?” Brok said. “How would it seem to other EU member states if Britain were now to hold a referendum? For me, that would undermine the negotiations on the treaty and even go as far as to question Britain’s credibility as an EU member.”
Read between the lines of another of Brok’s statements: “Britain is a valued member of the EU, but we should perhaps remember that the treaty contains an article which gives any member state the right to leave the EU if it so wishes.”
Brok’s message is clear: Britain should quit whining and sign the EU treaty, or leave the EU. Other European leaders have given Britain the same warning, some more diplomatically than others.
Gordon Brown is confronting what will almost certainly amount to the biggest decision of his political career and the most defining decision of his tenure as pm.
Even more than that, this decision represents possibly the biggest turning point in British history since Chamberlain declared war on Germany.
It is important that we monitor British politics in coming weeks and months. No doubt Mr. Brown is currently trying to find a way to please both his European counterparts and his electorate. But with European leaders adamantly against Britain conducting a referendum and the British public overwhelmingly demanding one, this will prove an incredibly tough task. British and European leaders will likely dance back and forth over this issue for weeks, perhaps months. But in the end, no amount of fancy diplomatic footwork can prevent this divisive issue from ultimately reaching a climax, whether it comes under Brown’s administration or shortly thereafter.
However the prime minister cuts the cake, Britain’s time in the European Union is about up!
Be it next week, next month or next year, the most defining moment in recent British history is almost here. One way or another, Britain is about to leave the European Union. The Trumpet has been watching the relationship between Britain and Europe for years. To learn about the recent history between Britain and Europe, read “Why Britain Booted Blair.” For a more detailed account of Britain’s future with Europe, read “Hosea—Reaping the Whirlwind.”