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Britain and the EU: in or out?

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Robin Lustig | 10:33 UK time, Friday, 2 November 2012

You may as well start thinking about it now, because it's beginning to look as if before too long, you're going to be asked to vote in a referendum on Britain and the EU.

Not this side of the next election, I admit, but my strong hunch is that all three major parties will have something in their manifestos come 2015 about being committed to a referendum. And that means, regardless of the election outcome, a referendum there will be.

Perhaps it's not before time. For the best part of 20 years, ever since the ructions over the Maastricht Treaty, British politics have been conducted in the full knowledge that an unspoken truth was lurking in the Westminster undergrowth: this country has still not made up its mind about what it wants its relationship to be with its neighbours across the Channel.

The trouble is that as soon as you start asking questions about it, more questions arise. Do you want the UK to remain in the EU? Well, you may respond, that rather depends on whether you mean the EU as it is now, or the EU as it may become over the next decade.

Would you like the UK to leave the EU but retain a close trading relationship with it? Well, that depends whether you have a Norway model in mind, or a Switzerland model. (Believe me, they're different ...)

Last Wednesday's vote in the House of Commons, when the government was defeated on an amendment seeking a commitment to cut the total EU budget, was a wake-up call. Europe is back on the Westminster agenda, despite all David Cameron's efforts since he became Tory leader seven years ago to shove it in the back of the cupboard and close the door tight.

Every time voters are asked what issues matter most to them, Europe comes way down the list. The economy, immigration and the NHS are the issues they highlight -- Europe, according to one recent poll, was identified by only 15 per cent of voters as an important issue facing the country.

The UK's net contribution to the EU this year (ie what it pays in, minus what it gets back, minus the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher) comes to just a shade under 7 billion pounds. That compares to around £104 billion that's spent on the NHS.

EU enthusiasts argue that the benefits the UK gets from membership are substantial compared to the relatively modest cost: a say in how the future shape of Europe will be decided; a whole raft of trade agreements with other nations, all of which would have to be separately negotiated if Britain were to leave; and a voice on the global diplomatic stage which would be much smaller were the UK to be operating alone.

Against which Euro-sceptics argue that the larger the EU becomes, the smaller the British voice becomes; that the pooling of sovereignty has taken key powers away from elected representatives at Westminster; and that EU rules and regulations are stifling British enterprise.

But perhaps the argument is about more than facts and figures: maybe it's also about how British voters think of themselves and their national identity, relative to our fellow-Europeans. Proud, separate, different -- and yes, let's be honest about it, better.

But back to that referendum. Party leaders know only too well that recent experience suggests that when governments ask voters a direct question about the EU, they don't get the answer they were hoping for. French and Dutch voters said No to a new constitution in 2005; and then a revised treaty, the Lisbon treaty, was thrown out by Irish voters in 2008. (They eventually said Yes a year later after a number of concessions had been negotiated.)

So suppose there is a UK referendum some time after 2015 -- and suppose the question is something nice and simple, along the lines of: "Do you want the UK to remain in, or to withdraw from, the European Union?" When the question was asked in a referendum in 1975, two-thirds of voters said they wanted to stay in. Forty years on, I fancy the answer would be very different.

How would you vote?


  • Comment number 1.

    'The trouble is that as soon as you start asking questions about it, more questions arise. '
    And asking questions is good in the run up to an election.
    Of course some are not in favour of some power being held being held to account, even when never subject to a ballot.
    Which, if in a position of influence on policy, may be less good.

  • Comment number 2.

    In May 2010, German Finance Minister BANNED naked credit default swaps against Euro bonds, & restricted short selling. Failure of other EU countries to join aggressively in this ban has lift the window open for Anglo/Americans to attack the euro.
    Europe needs now to ban credit default swaps along with collateralized debt obligations as the 2 MOST TOXIC types of OVER-THE-COUNTER derivatives, while imposing a 1% Euro-Tobin tax on financial transactions, with the proceeds being paid into the national treasuries to maintain the SOCIAL SAFETY NET. If Anglo/American speculation persists, certain forms of capital controls and exchange controls would be in order.
    This garbage is the root of EU crisis – not Greek & Portuguese laziness, not the self-indulgence of the French, etc. Those we want to break up the EU are aiding and abetting the real enemy.
    I would vote: Yes to EU referendum!

  • Comment number 3.

    The process leading to the euro is largely irreversible, except under conditions of absolute, chaotic disintegration. The main reason is that speculation is now immensely stronger than at any time in the recent past, & possesses devastating new weapon in the form of the CREDIT DEFAULT SWAP.
    Greek economists want to paint an idyllic picture of Greece once more using drachma, able to devalue its own currency, and thus capable of reducing its debt burden, making its exports more attractive. Problem: devaluation would not stop where these economists imagine, but would begin to approach zero. An isolated drachma, in short, would mean absolute immiseration of Greece, with an unimaginable hyperinflation of the prices of basic food staples, energy, and other imported necessities.
    Most other countries would fall between these two extremes, but all would share in a common European ruin. Their only hope for survival would be to
    1. implement a Tobin tax,
    2. ban on collateralized debt obligations & credit default swaps,
    3. impose capital controls, exchange controls, and other anti-speculative measures.
    This is how speculation is put to death.
    On an EU referendum, I would vote yes.

  • Comment number 4.

    Collectice suicide: failure to prevent the catastrophic and chaotic breakup of the euro under Anglo/American speculative attack!
    Those who advocate the demolition of the euro must explain why they insist on surrendering to the brazen aggression of London and New York. Why are they determined to appease Goldman Sachs, Barclays Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, and the rest of the Anglo/American vampires?
    No Austerity – Budget-cutting is a total failure in its own terms. Greek deficit is growing because of budget cuts. A policy based on budget cuts will never balance the budget.
    No Bailouts – World derivatives bubble amounts to approximately $1.5 QUADRILLION ($1,500 trillion or $1, 500, 000,000,000,000), which adds up to about 25 times the total world-wide GDP of @ $65 trillion. The European share of the world derivatives bubble is certainly in excess of one third, meaning more than $500 trillion. This sum alone exceeds the capacity of the planet to generate credit and liquidity. It is a black hole. It cannot be bailed out. Derivatives can only be disintegrated, meaning in practice DESTROYED, DELETED.
    No Eurobonds — Because the bankruptcy of the European banks is largely a matter of their mass of bankrupt derivatives, it is also futile to borrow money from China or from Dilma of Brazil. Barroso’s plan is beaten before it starts.
    No Recapitalization of Banks to Mask Derivatives Losses — No amount of recapitalization could ever hope to cancel out the derivatives. Under Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, the US vampire banks were allowed to keep their toxic derivatives in their vaults, even if they received bailouts from the Treasury and 0% Federal credit from the Fed.
    No Sixpack — The budget reforms known as the sixpack are an attempt to revive the Maastricht convergence criteria that limited European deficits to 3% of GDP. Maastricht was a plan to strangle the productive economy of Europe, and make sure that employment remained depressed. These failed policies should be jettisoned.
    Leveraging of the EFSF: Stupid! This idiotic suggestion would leave the EFSF wide-open to the attacks by credit rating agencies who act as thinly veiled proxies for Wall Street and the City of London. It is better to divert the EFSF into infrastructure investments.
    No IMF - meddling & bungling economists of the International Monetary Fund which has never been able to point to a single story of successful economic development. I would vote yes to referendum. I want to be part of the solution!

  • Comment number 5.

    By only looking at the chart (put in Jan 1955)


    It is difficult to place any blame on the EEC or the EU for Britain´s decline.

    Since the 70´s the UK has had oil and more recently also gas. Today it produces 90% of its oil requirements, and 60% of its gas --an advantage few have had. Even not having the Euro has not helped.

    Colony loss, warfare, class warfare, service economy, incompetent governing and a nationalistic ´dumbing- down´ of the society have all taken their toll and yet the Flag is waved and ´more of the same´ is promised-- to cheering.

    -- The remnants of British industry and the Unions are unlikely allies, but they know they now only have each other.

    -- It is unwise to be defiant -- when choking on little more than pride.

  • Comment number 6.

    There are unfortunately, many more words to explain Britain´s attitude to the EU --than ´ Proud, separate, different ´ -- and they are far from complimentary.

    From many (most) of the public´s " We only signed up to the EEC as a trade agreement" to the the British government´s " We want our Sovereignty back". Many of the public´s arguments may be excused by mass ignorance, but those of the many past British governments are of a much more serious international nature.

    The British government and people of the time, made a commitment to the ´Peoples of Europe´.The decades of arrogance ( treachery ?) deliberately undermining this EEC Treaty is hardly excused by using the description--

    "let's be honest about it, better."


    1975 Referendum results.


    -- ´Once bitten twice shy´?

    -- Whatever the results are of any future referendum --Britain should leave the EU. The mutual mistrust will always remain --and Europe should not permanently ´held to ransom´by the UK´s Feudal, societal, developmental and national failures --presented as positive attributes.

  • Comment number 7.


    In or out is not a question. You might as well ask the equivalent question WW3 or not. The UK cannot physical detach itself from Europe, although many daft Tories and Labourits and the dreadful you kippers seem to think it can - these people are bereft of sanity. That does not of course means that they will not win the argument. Indeed these same question have been asked before many times in history and when a country decides to detach itself from the planet it inevitable has led to military conflict when the physical reality impinges on the insanity.

    I find it interesting that the same groups are advocating insane choices today as they did in 18th and 19th century. They contributed to the death of millions. Perhaps that is a necessary catharsis but I hope not. I'll not labour the point but the same supported of the Black Shirts before the last war are supporting the new bunch of insane idiots.

    President De-Gaulle knew the British national psyche well and just did not trust the country to be capable of being a good European and he has proved to be right even though he eventually let the UK in to the EU. I recall conversations with Ted Heath before accession and the talk of straws in the wind.

    The British Establishment hates foreigners - all foreigners deep down - even though most of them are foreigners themselves. The media's agenda is set by an ancient antipodean born yank who wants to be President of the UK as well as a pornographer and Russian oligarchs.

    The question in the referendum should be along the lines of:

    "Do you want to kill your children". Yes or No.

    And other question is fake and offers a false dichotomy / choice. Some idiots will still vote yes! (The White Feather Brigade after the women who sent their sons to be slaughtered in their millions in a previous insanity. They were voting to kill their own children.)

    What the EU needs is a directly elected President and Executive by one EU citizen one vote. That is the voting that we need. Not this waste of time nonsense.

  • Comment number 8.

    British Foreign policy is deliberately being sabotaged to the detriment of British workers and industry.

    Cameron on his trip to Brazil--

    " I argue for Britain's membership because I want to be able to say to countries like Brazil 'Come to Britain and you can sell to the 320 million consumers across Europe'."

    The ´assassins´ will stop at nothing.

    Not only is the EU (membership and proximity to Europe ) now lost as a ´selling point´for foreign companies investing in and moving to Britain --but the UK ´s seriousness and reliability will now be justifiably questioned --and negatively answered.

    The silence of Hague is conspicuous.

    The conspirators are extremely naive -- what is happening is the pro-EU countries are surrounding Germany as allies --and Britain surrounded by water.

    -- and ALL by Britain´s own making --yet ANOTHER success.

  • Comment number 9.


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