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After the Conservative Party’s victory in the general election, it now looks likely that David Cameron will follow through on his promise to hold an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union by the end of 2017. Although Cameron himself would prefer the UK to remain a member, there is now a serious possibility of ‘Brexit’, particularly given the rise of UKIP and a general disillusionment with the EU among many voters across the political spectrum. Euroscepticism has re-emerged on the left, too, with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Jones calling for the UK to leave the EU.
Business leaders have frequently warned of economic catastrophe if the UK leaves the EU. One much-quoted estimate is that between three and four million jobs depend on trade with the EU, though the claim that these jobs would all be in jeopardy if the UK left is controversial. The UK would likely continue to have free trade with the remaining members of the EU. But the economic issues run much wider than trade. Brexit could have significant implications for inward investment, the role of the City of London as a global financial centre, UK influence on the rules and regulations of a block that would remain a major trading partner, as well as agricultural support, free movement of workers, and so on.
But perhaps it would be wrong to see the question of EU membership in narrowly economic terms. There is much concern that the EU now determines large areas of UK law, while lacking the accountability to voters that national parliaments have. The travails of the Eurozone have dampened enthusiasm in many quarters for the long-term project of ‘ever-closer union’. Some see the possibility of Brexit not as a rejection of Europe but as an opportunity to rethink our relationship with other EU member states.
Is the EU reformable, or are its current ways of working too entrenched? Would an independent UK be able to survive and thrive outside the EU? Is Europe as we know it already doomed, or has it proven itself capable of weathering the crisis?
Baroness Falkner of Margravine; chair, House of Lords EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee; member, EU Select Committee
UK correspondent, Die Welt
group external affairs director, Vodafone
visiting senior fellow, LSE’s European Institute; author, Immigrants: your country needs them and European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right
economist; director, Epping Consulting business advice; author, The Imaginary Time Bomb
consultant, financial markets research; campaigner, Manifesto Club; writer, Free Society
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