Is Brexit a real way out for United Kingdom?

In few days, the Brexit referendum will set the future of Great Britain in the EU. Britain is deeply divided over this sensitive question, as proved by the shocking murder of  Jo Cox, a Member of the British Parliament. This number of NEU tries hence to show its implications.

It is just a matter of days and the so-called Brexit referendum will decide the future of Great Britain in the EU. Britain is deeply divided over this sensitive question, as proved by the shocking murder of Helen Joanne “Jo” Cox, a Member of the British Parliament for the Labour Party. She was shot and stabbed by a man who reportedly shouted “Britain first”.

Prime Minister David Cameron, in an effort to support the campaign to keep London in the EU – recently suspended after the murder of Jo Cox – has been focused on negotiating reforms with the EU and aimed at preventing the Brexit scenario, which would have serious consequences for the UK.  The Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank committed to improve the quality of the debate on the European Union, has recently issued a detailed report on the impact of Brexit.

A set of rules to govern the relationship between euro-ins and euro-outs are the key part of David Cameron’s deal with the EU. If Britain left, in spite of the views of the remaining euro-outs, the eurozone would have more power to drive economic and financial policy inside the EU. But, at least in the short term, rapid eurozone integration seems very unlikely due to divisions within the eurozone itself.

Britain, namely one of the most economically liberal countries in the EU, has managed over the years to raise consensus across the Union towards the liberalisation of internal markets in goods, services and labour. However, in case of Brexit, such access to these markets would nonetheless depend on UK acceptance of EU rules, including on the free movement of labour.

While France and the Commission wanted a big push from the centre, as well as a strong common regulator, the UK has pushed for a bottom-up approach to creating a Capital Markets Union (CMU), whose nature would be different without Britain in the Union.

Furthermore, years could be wasted by the UK to negotiate with the EU in order to save those parts of the existing relationship that both sides like – and there is no guarantee that the results will be as good as the previous one.

As for climate policy, other member-states might not be as committed as the UK has been so far. Leader on this matter, Britain pushed for ambitious carbon emissions targets. What would happen to those them? Meanwhile, the EU might adopt a more centralised system of energy market regulation without the UK, which has opposed Commission efforts to intervene in national energy policy decisions and hence improve security of energy supply.

EU foreign policy might become less active on the world scene without the United Kingdom, as it has been the British government that, regardless of the political party, has regarded the EU as an important tool in pursuing foreign policy goals. Same goes for the European Defence policy. Although there will be no more opposition to its establishment, it would be much less capable to conduct EU operations. Even the relationship between the EU and NATO could be affected, as Britain has always acted as a bridge between the two institutions.

The UK has also been a driving force in some of the most important steps to fight crime and terrorism, even though it is not inside the Schengen area and it has opted-out in the area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). Without Britain, other Member States would have harder time in tackling cross-border organised crime and international terrorism.

Despite their influence has been falling for some time, UK nationals are still relevant in the EU institutions, especially in the Commission, where they head some important policy directorates-general. In the Parliament, British MEPs still promote an economically liberal agenda and British ways of thinking, which would hence be less prominent in case of Brexit.

Besides, Brexit would become the success of eurosceptic movements across Europe and possibly unleash a series of referenda on their permanence in the European Union in various Member States. Britain’s exit could also intensify tensions and insecurities in those countries that are suspicious of Berlin, whose influence in the EU would become preponderant.

In brief, this referendum will not affect Britain only. Indeed, should the UK vote to leave the EU, the former Member State would certainly change, but so will the EU because an EU without UK, would probably be less liberal, less secure, less open, less aligned with British values and interests, properly defined. After all, they are a relevant part of those elements composing Europe’s identity.

For all these reasons, this number of NEU is trying to unveil all possible implications of the Referendum on Brexit, as so to allow our readers to assess all possible fallouts of this watershed moment for UK and Europe.

Tommaso Ripani
For more information on the Brexit consequences, read NEU’s selection of articles here.

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