British Premier David Cameron is in a difficult position: the referendum that will decide on the permanence of the United Kingdom in the EU is ahead, and while Brussels seems to open up to minor “possibilities”, it will be hard to obtain further “concessions.” “There is no further chance to negotiate with the European Union on the two major questions” raised by the government leader, “namely, restrictions to free movement of citizens” and “limitations to welfare benefits.” It’s the view of Michael Keating, Professor at Aberdeen University, expert in Community integration and Brexit, author of the book “Rescaling the European State”. In the light of the draft agreement submitted yesterday by European Council President Donald Tusk, the dispute between London and the rest of Europe doesn’t seem to smooth out.
Tusk’s proposal. The letter, dated February 2, signed by the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, addressed to all heads of Government and State of the European Union on the issue of the English referendum,
makes some concessions to the English government, it reaffirms the pillars of Community policies and adjourns decisions to the summit of February 18-19.
Among the crucial elements, the document states that the United Kingdom “is not committed to” further political integration. In the full respect for, and on the grounds of subsidiarity, Member States can “discontinue the consideration of a draft legislative act where a number of national parliaments object to it.” On the migratory front the letter reaffirms the validity of the “safeguard mechanism” that could be granted to all States in case of “exceptional situations” of inflows of workers from other Member States, entailing a temporary reduction of welfare benefits for them and for their families. “As relates to governance” and sovereignty, the document ensures “mutual respect between the Member States taking part in further deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union and those which do not.” However, non-participating Member States will not be entitled to interfere with decisions regarding the single currency.
Fault on both sides. Keating doesn’t believe that the so-called “emergency brake” clause will be sufficient to determine the outcome of the referendum. The “emergency brake” makes it possible for a Member Country, in agreement with other Member States, to cut benefits to workers from EU countries over a period of four years, on the grounds that the national welfare system is going through difficulties.
“It won’t be enough to convince British eurosceptics determined to exit the EU”
the scholar said. “Cameron has lost control – he added – and the political agenda is dictated by the Ukip party that wants Britain outside of Europe.” For Professor Keating, “it’s also the fault of the European Union that was unable to respond to the need for a leadership capable of handling the migratory and economic crises.” “The EU’s credibility has decreased across all European Countries, a fortiori in England, notably a eurosceptic Country.” Moreover, the referendum on Brexit, due to be held next June 23, “couldn’t have happened at a worse moment in time.” Indeed, according to Keating, “an agreement will be reached in February or March because Cameron doesn’t want the United Kingdom to exit the EU, and the other 27 States don’t want” London “to leave Europe.” However, “the premier will manage to convince only those who are already in favour of the EU.”
Tug of war with the Scots. “In the case of a Brexit, there is a concrete risk that the United Kingdom may experience a division, with England and Scotland taking opposite directions”, the expert underlined. “The Scottish people have always been characterised by multifarious identities – Scottish, British, European – that enable them to negotiate at various levels, while the English are used to a single government level and they’re used to negotiate with no one.”
“That’s why the Scots are in favour of the EU while the English are eurosceptic.”
For Keating there are two possible scenarios. “If, during the next referendum, the English votes were to prevail and they were in favour of Brexit, the Scottish nationalist Party would call for a second referendum to break away from the United Kingdom”, he said. “It’s bound to be a very difficult situation, worse than what it was in 2014, since at the time Scotland and England were both members of the European Union, while this time, for the first time there is a divide, a scenario disliked by Scottish nationalists.” The second scenario is less likely to happen but no less worrying than the first. “If a large majority of Scots should vote to stay inside the EU and a small minority of English decided to leave, and the referendum gave the green light to the Brexit option, tensions between Scotland and England would grow worse.”
What about Ireland? There is also another Country, in addition to Scotland, that is deeply worried about the possibility of the United Kingdom exiting the EU. That Country is Ireland. “The United Kingdom is an important trade partner for Ireland, which joined the EU in 1973 with the United Kingdom,” Keating went on. “Ireland would still remain in Europe, also in the case of a Brexit, but it would be a very difficult situation because many Irish citizens work in the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, if the United Kingdom were to exit the EU, Northern Ireland would follow suit and this would entail the need for a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland,
raising risks for the peace process.” In other words a Brexit would be “a disaster”, and that is why, according to Professor Keating, “the business world, trade unions, as well as the majority of political parties, oppose it.”