Judy asks: Has the EU already lost Britain?

Judy Asks: Has the EU already lost Britain?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
Stephen Tindale
26 November 2014

The EU has not “lost” Britain. The union is actually doing things that Britain has demanded: cutting its budget, reducing regulation, adopting technology-neutral climate policies.

The problem is that British Prime Minister David Cameron appears to have lost any determination to keep the UK in the EU (if he ever had any). His attempt to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission presidency was vainglorious—and if Cameron hadn’t taken his Conservative Party out of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, Juncker might not have been the EPP candidate.

The commission’s “demand” that the UK pay an extra £1.7 billion ($2.7 billion) to the EU budget was a calculation made under rules agreed in 2009. Cameron could have sought rule changes during the EU budget negotiations (and blamed his Labour predecessors). Instead, he did nothing, then blamed the commission.

After proposing an “in or out” referendum on Britain’s EU membership, the prime minister could have sought—and would probably have achieved—sensible reforms to make the EU work better, then led a campaign for an “in” vote. Instead, Cameron is demanding an end to the free movement of labor, one of the cornerstones of the EU.

There is no chance that other EU member states will give him this. So, if reelected at the next general election in May 2015, Cameron will probably lead a campaign to take Britain out of the union. That would undo the achievement of one of his Conservative predecessors, Edward Heath.

Stephen Tindale is an associate fellow at the Centre for European Reform.