The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Guy Edwards, a co-director of the Climate and Development Lab at Brown. And Geoffrey Edwards, his father, emeritus reader in European studies at the University of Cambridge, England.

Britain is being battered by a torrid and intensifying internal debate. This Thursday, Britons will vote on whether to remain part of the European Union or leave. The polls, like a loose object on the deck of ship in a stormy sea, lurch from one side to the other.

Those campaigning to leave the EU argue that it constitutes a dead weight dragging Britain under. They argue that the EU is so dysfunctional that Britain should cut itself free. Although the EU is in need of reform, this reasoning appears over-inflated or incorrect on several issues including defense, immigration, sovereignty, economy, trade, security, and global influence.

One of the Leave campaign’s lies is that the UK is powerless to stop itself becoming part of an EU army. EU Member-States have no intention of creating an EU army and Britain retains a veto. Proposed Turkish membership of the EU is being used to stock fears about rising immigration yet Turkey is unlikely to join the EU for decades.

Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House think tank, says that the Leave campaign’s slogan “take back control” rings hollow. As part of the world’s largest single market, Britain has pooled some of its sovereignty with the EU, which has delivered over 50 international trade agreements. The UK has also retained sovereign control over most of the key issues for voters, including health, education, pensions, welfare, monetary policy, defense, and border security.

The well-respected governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, says that the UK could suffer severe economic consequences if it left. A poll carried out by Ipsos MORI, which drew responses from 639 economists found that 88% believe that Brexit would most likely damage Britain’s future growth prospects.

 

A vote to leave would lead to a drawn-out divorce from the continent. The EU would not offer Britain favorable terms and would likely seek to punish the mutiny as a warning to others. Depending on the type of trade deal the EU and Britain reach, Britain would be forced to re-negotiate scores of trade deals from scratch without the weight of the largest single market backing it up.

The European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, says leaving the EU would undermine Britain’s ability to fight crime and terrorism given the substantial cooperation with its EU partners including the European Arrest Warrants. In recent years they have allowed Britain to bring 650 people to justice including tax evaders and human traffickers. The UK’s global role would be also be diminished without the diplomatic heft of 27 other member states working alongside it to push for sanctions against Russia.

Britain has punched above its weight on the international stage largely due to the EU, but also NATO and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. During his final visit to Britain last April, President Obama praised an EU “fortified” by Britain which helped secure the Paris climate agreement. Without the EU acting as one of the agreement’s principal architects it probably wouldn’t have materialized.

In a post-Brexit world, Britain would lose credibility and likely the trust of key partners including the United States. It has already re-earned the sobriquet of “perfidious Albion” for the current government’s introspection during multiple crises threatening Europe including terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis.

The EU is in need of reform, which is why the British debate should look beyond winning the referendum to remain and begin to reverse the UK’s cantankerous attitude toward its EU partners.

For too long the British have focused on what the EU takes from them rather than what they might contribute. For too long they have criticized what the EU has or has not been doing instead of asking what it might do. And for too long, British governments have derided the EU’s failures without acknowledging its own responsibility or laying the blame for domestic problems such as inadequate public services at the EU’s door.

Winning the EU referendum can open the political space for Britain to transform its relationship with the continent. This may prove too difficult for Cameron’s government but it should be a top issue for other political parties before the next general election in 2020. Only through greater engagement, cooperation and dialogue can Britain attempt to grapple with some of the various challenges facing Europe; and healing some the damage from this latest affliction of EU neurosis.

The timing is ripe. Britain is scheduled to take over the presidency of the EU Council from July through December next year. Prime Minister David Cameron has an unprecedented opportunity to set the agenda for Britain’s presidency.

First, Britain can lead the charge to scale up the EU’s climate goals. Having successfully worked to increase the EU’s emission reduction targets before the 2015 UN climate talks in Paris, it can make a renewed push for the EU to bring its targets in line with the Paris Agreement including the goal to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

Second, Britain must face up to its humanitarian and security responsibilities to help ameliorate the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Britain should contribute to resettling refugees direct from regions in conflict and set a better example by taking in more refugees. It should work more closely with its partners to develop a more assertive EU approach to stabilizing countries like Libya that contribute to the refugee crisis.

Third, Britain can proactively contribute to the design of the proposed EU Energy Union. It would allow energy to flow freely across borders with the aim of making it more secure, cleaner, and affordable. Connecting Europe’s power grids can smooth out intermittency problems of renewables and provide a boost for their development while decreasing reliance on importing Russian gas.

The storm over Britain’s EU referendum will continue to rage. Britain should play a central role in the EU to build a more prosperous, cleaner and resilient continent. Brexit would cut the mooring line to building a better future.

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