Guest Post by Anisur Rahman
The future of Great Britain is at a critical juncture now. The country is facing an issue which would determine whether it remains within the European Union (EU) as a single entity or exit from the EU and thereby fragmented; it is simply an existential question. The decision day is June the 23rd, 2016 when the people of Britain will decide whether to stay in the reformed EU or say good bye to it for ever.
The country which once ruled the waves; the country where, once facetiously claimed, sun never sets – from the pacific coast of China through the whole of Indian subcontinent, through the main bulk of Africa and north America to the western pacific coast of Canada – it was truly an empire of gigantic proportions. Now after the ravages of two World Wars in the last century and the consequent decolonisation, the country has been reduced to few islands off the western shores of the continental Europe. Admittedly, a small number of overseas territories and islands, dotted around the world, is still administered by the UK, but they have no economic prowess at all.
The UK had been allowed to join the European Economic Community (EEC) back in January 1973, after years of unsuccessful attempts, when Edward Heath, the then Prime Minister of Britain, negotiated terms for accession. The first referendum of the British public opinion on the renegotiated terms of the treaty was held in 1975 and the support was just overwhelming – over 67 per cent wanted to stay within the community.
Since then lots of water had passed under the bridge – the European Monetary System (EMS) was created in 1979 to bring about currency stability throughout the community and the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) to create stable exchange rates; the Single European Act (SEA) of 1987 amending the Treaty of Rome; the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 which led to the creation of the European Union (EU) in 1993. The Maastricht Treaty also led to the creation of the single currency, called the Euro, and the formation of Eurozone. There had been a host of other laws, regulations, Acts etc. emanating from the European Commission in Brussels.
But the major sticking point for the British lawmakers was that some of the European regulations and Acts (promulgated for the sake of harmonisation across the whole of the EU) had primacy over British regulations. This had been viewed as blatant encroachment, a demeaning curtailment of British national sovereignty and subordination of the British Parliament. This sentiment is held primarily by the egoistical lawmakers belonging to the Tory Party, who presume that they have the innate rights to run the country without any meddling from any quarters, least of all from Europe. Twice they had beaten Europe in their games and still it has the audacity to come back to meddle in the affairs of the victorious country! Admittedly, these people are accompanied with a sprinkling of conceited Labour supporters and ‘little Englanders’ in the form of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The UKIP thrives on fear factors of immigration, be it from Europe or outside.
In order to assuage this maniac fear of immigration by xenophobic populace, David Cameron had promised to the electorate before the last national election that he would renegotiate terms with the EU addressing concerns of the public and then give them the choice to decide whether to remain within the EU and leave – the so-called Brexit. That promise found expression in the election manifesto of the Conservative Party to hold referendum before 2017.
Over the last few months British government conducted bilateral discussions with the other 27 Member States (MS) and over a two-day period (18 to 19 Feb) most intense negotiations had been conducted by David Cameron in Brussels with the heads of all the Member States as well as with the European Commission. The key points of David Cameron’s reform deal are
- Britain has the right to phase in benefits to the migrant workers from the EU – there would be no benefit at the start of migrant worker and full benefits will be offered after four years of contributions
- child benefits for children of migrant workers living abroad will be based on cost of living in that country
- Britain will be exempt from ‘ever closer integration’ within the EU
- British businesses and firms will not be subject to discriminatory clauses due to Britain not being in the Eurozone.
Now that the negotiations have been concluded, it is time to ask the public to decide to remain ‘in’ or get ‘out’ of the EU. David Cameron stressed that the deal is the best that can be achieved. It will give Britain the best of both worlds – Britain will have the opportunity to trade with the largest trading block in the world without restrictive clauses; Britain will have the economic and political strength of being part of this block; Britain will not be forced to join Euro at any time in the future. In short, he said, “Britain will be safer, stronger and better off”’ within the EU and hence he recommends that public should vote ‘in’ in the referendum.
But he is not getting everything his own way. When he gave the free choice to the cabinet ministers, five ministers decided to campaign against him to leave the EU. Needless to say that these ministers are radical xenophobic Tories with innate feeling of superiority.
This referendum is of monumental consequence – it is simply a make or break for Britain. If Britain decides to stay ‘in’, then everything will remain calm and affairs of the State will function smoothly as usual. On the other hand, if she decides to move ‘out’, then the hell will break loose.
Besides the problem of disentangling from the EU, which will be extremely messy and time consuming, there would also be tremendous financial repercussions. All the big multinational manufacturing companies such as Toyota, Nissan, Honda, RWE, EdF etc. will actively consider relocating their businesses to mainland Europe to avoid any possible tariff on products of non-EU countries; financial institutions such as banks, international managed funds, insurance companies etc. may move from London to other European cities. There may be numerous other companies which may find mainland Europe more attractive than the isolated, stand-alone Britain. The value of pound sterling would plummet; imported goods would be more expensive; inflation rates as well as interest rates would go up significantly. It is not for nothing that all independent economic institutions of the world such as the IMF, World Bank, OECD and so forth are warning loud and clear that Britain leaving the EU would damage its economy severely.
The future of Great Britain as a country would be at grave risks. If the majority of English voters (population of 53.5 million) votes ‘out’, it is very likely that the collective views of Scotland (population 5.5 million), Wales (population 3.0 million) and Northern Ireland (population 2.0 million) would be overruled. As Scotland is very much in favour of remaining within the EU and if she is dragged out against her wishes, there would be a constitutional crisis. The First Minister of Scotland, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, has already stridently declared that if Scotland finds itself to be pulled out against her wishes, she will invoke the right to have referendum on independence. Given the close outcome of the last Scottish referendum about two years ago, there is every likelihood that they will succeed this time.
So, where would the United Kingdom of Great Britain stand? Bluntly speaking, the United Kingdom would stand to be utterly fragmented. Scotland as well as other Kingdoms may secede from the Union and gleefully join the EU. England which had voted to come out of the EU would remain isolated outside the EU. The xenophobic lawmakers who passionately argued to leave would have to tackle massive unemployment, social unrest and economic collapse. They would have all the powers to legislate, have national sovereignty of no consequence and have border controls (probably to stop people leaving the country)! The British people would seek employment abroad – as it happens now with Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy etc. That would be the reality of the situation.
In the modern inter-connected and inter-dependent world there is no absolute sovereignty. Sovereignty is always compromised one way or the other. Even a superpower like the US cannot claim to have total sovereignty – international events dictate national polity. If the xenophobic Tory elements think that full blooded sovereignty is achievable just by leaving the EU, then they are deluding themselves and are leading Britain to political wilderness and economic collapse. The country needs to realise this at this critical moment and protect itself from such deranged elements.
Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.