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Western politicians, experts express differing opinions on UK’s post-Brexit future

09:03 | 13.02.2016 | Analytic

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13 February 2016. PenzaNews. 45% of British citizens are showing support for Brexit, compared with 36% against it and 19% still undecided, says the YouGov survey conducted for The Times in anticipation of the referendum on the UK membership in the European Union which the British media say is likely to take place as early as on 23 June 2016.

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The exact date of the vote is likely to be determined after the February 18-19 EU summit, during which the European Union leaders and prime ministers will be reviewing a set of reforms, proposed by the European Council chairman Donald Tusk after the talks with the British PM David Cameron after the latter demanded changes in four areas – recognizing the EU as a multi-currency union, increasing competitiveness, enhancing the role for national parliaments in European decision-making, and tightening the immigration laws.

Cameron wants a deal at the summit on 18-19 February before holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU later this year.

Earlier this month, Tusk offered a compromise proposal in areas of economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, social benefits and free movement.

political union, competitiveness, non-eurozone rights and control of migrant welfare rights.

The toughest point for the European Union to agree was the right for London to withhold in-work benefit payments to EU migrants working in the UK for their first four years, with Eastern European countries set dead against this demand.

In return, the European Union put forth a counter-offer to develop a system that would allow the UK and any other EU country to bar in-work benefits to migrants.

According to David Cameron, agreement on all terms of the deal is the necessary basis for support to remain in the Union by the UK people. However, the Conservative Party which is led by the British PM is getting increasingly more Eurosceptic: according to opinion polls, 70% of Tories are currently supporting the Leave campaign.

Moreover, representatives of 44 Conservative regional and local associations signed a public letter in which they accused David Cameron of showing “disrespect” to those who campaigned to deliver him a majority at the most recent general election.

According to David Davis, Conservative Party MP, the European Union has been suffering from economic stagnation, high debt, growing unemployment and ineffective policies for a significant period of time.

From his point of view, over the last few decades the EU has gradually distanced itself from its original principles of democracy and competitiveness, a trend further exacerbated by the creation of the European Currency Union.

Centered on Germany, the EU’s largest and most powerful nation and the paymaster of Europe, the Eurozone constitutes a dominant majority. This is downright dangerous. The core Eurozone countries will not accept any curtailment of the decisions they need to make to save the Euro. At the same time, the non-Eurozone countries cannot accept decisions that are against their interests, imposed on them,” the MP stated.

He also pointed out that Europe’s current share of the global GDP is falling, along with its importance for the foreign economy of Britain.

At the same time, Charles Tannock, British MEP for the Conservative Party, told PenzaNews agency that he does not share this point of view as he sees the European market as vital for the country.

“And many countries, not least the Commonwealth and the US, see Britain as the gateway to Europe, boosted by English, our time zone and London as a financial hub,” he said in an interview, reminding that the British membership in the EU has been a controversial topic for several decades.

In his opinion, the British people must use the debate to thoroughly discuss the economic and practical benefits of the relationship with the EU.

Moreover, Charles Tannock pointed out that the EU renegotiation process received a vivid reaction in the political community and helped bridge some of the gaps in contacts with other countries of the Union.

“Whatever way the referendum goes, there will clearly be a more informed understanding of the issues between Brussels and London,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, Mike Hookem, MEP for the UK Independence Party, UKIP Spokesman for Defense, said the measures proposed by David Cameron will bring no benefits to his country, while the set of reforms voiced by Donald Tusk is nothing but a meaningless excuse.

“It still doesn’t address the fundamental problems of sovereignty and of democratic accountability, of uncontrolled migration driving down jobs,” the politician stressed.

According to him, the British MP will not admit that the United Kingdom is already de-facto not a part of the European Union.

“We’re there to bail out everyone else,” Mike Hookem stressed.

In the meantime, Richard Corbett, British MEP for the Labor Party, former advisor to the ex-President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, pointed out that the activists in the Leave campaign are very divided on the subject of the future of the country if Brexit succeeds.

“Some of them say: we will leave, but of course we will have a free trade agreement with the EU, we will still be part of the single European market, we can still participate in the research programs. We walk out slamming the door on the neighboring countries, and you’d expect them all to be nice to you?” the Labor Party member asked.

At the same time, the other half of the political campaign says London must turn its back completely on Europe and go global; however, according to him, this will require renegotiating trade agreements with the whole world to replace the documents the UK has via the European Union.

Back in 2013, the British Prime Minister made a promise to renegotiate the UK membership in the EU and hold a referendum if the Conservative Party wins the 2015 parliamentary election, former advisor to the ex-President of the European Council; however, that likely was a promise he had never intended to keep in the first place.

“This is exactly the sort of thing which he could have bargained away in a new coalition agreement with Liberal Democrats, because even David Cameron did not expect to win an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons, which he did. So in order to survive, he has now no choice after the election but to deliver,” Richard Corbett said, adding that it took the Conservatives several months to formulate the demands for EU reform.

His colleague Annelise Dodds, British MEP for the Labor Party, pointed out that many of the politicians in Brussels have been frustrated over the actions by David Cameron, whose behavior “reminds [her of a] toddler son, rather than of a statesman.”

“Some of the measures proposed by Cameron are relatively sensible and have been on the UK Labour and EU Socialist agenda for many years. There are, however, problems with some other areas. […] No one can put their hand on their heart and precisely predict the impact that leaving the EU would have on the UK. We do know, however, that around one in ten jobs in the UK depend on trade with the rest of the EU, a number that is likely to be higher in my region of the South East, due to our strength in tourism, high-technology production and digital services,” the politician explained.

She also pointed out that Brexit will result in the United Kingdom, which currently enjoys a special status with the EU, being forced adjust its legislation to be compatible with that in the Brussels, along with losing the ability to affect the decision-making process.

In turn, Tim Knox, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, suggested that Britain leaving the EU in the midst of the euro crisis and the migration crisis would be a disaster for Brussels.

“The UK is the fastest growing economy in the European Union, it enjoys fantastic historic, cultural, linguistic ties with most of the booming economies in the world. The idea that Britain is too weak to stand on its own is ridiculous,” the expert stressed.

However, he admitted that uncertainty would be damaging for the business, while Brexit may result in Brussels discontinuing its economic relationship with London, although currently the EU exports more to Britain than vice-versa.

Discussing the possible terms for the referendum, Tim Knox pointed out that there would be a number of advantages for David Cameron to hold it soon after the EU summit in February, as the Leave campaign is fractured and lacking a charismatic leader.

“The longer the referendum is delayed, the more likely it is that people will vote not on the question of the referendum, but on the popularity of the government and the Prime Minister at the time, and there are still a lot of difficult political, economic and tax decisions which have to be taken in the near future,” added the Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.

In turn, Simon Lightfoot, researcher of European Politics at the University of Leeds, suggested that the majority of British citizens are dissatisfied with the political elite, which in their eyes surrendered some of their responsibilities and the national sovereignty for the membership in the EU, while the businesses are in favor for maintaining the status quo.

In his opinion, the current situation is unpredictable, and the votes of the undecided may even come down to what newspapers they read.

“But I think some of the factors will come down to the economic argument, in the same way that they came down to it in the Scottish referendum,” the expert explained.

At the same time, he stressed that the negotiation tour by David Cameron resulted in some of the European countries going on the same side with the United Kingdom on some of the reforms in the approach to the February 18-19 referendum.

“Issues around borders and social benefits have a resonance in Denmark and Sweden,” Simon Lightfoot noted.

Jana Puglierin, Head of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies, suggested a similar point of view.

“Donald Tusk’s proposals are an important step forward in the negotiation process and I am confident that the EU member states will seal a deal at the summit,” the analyst said, adding that the rise of the Eurosceptics in the United Kingdom had been provoked primarily by the internal crises.

She also proposed that Brexit may result in Scottish independence and the loss of trade preferences with other European Union states, while the membership issue itself will likely remain open at any vote.

“Regardless of the outcome of the referendum the question of Europe will remain at center stage in British politics. Even as a non-member state, therefore, Britain would be heavily engaged with a range of European policy issues,” Jana Puglierin stressed.

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