Britain is in the grip of a debate about the future of the European Union and Britain’s place within it. Such is the importance of the issue that entire Europe and the rest of the world are watching cautiously and are concerned about its outcome.
An EU-British divorce poses the danger of wrecking the European project because Britain is too important a member. European leaders and friends of Britain are acutely aware of this and have urged, persuaded and warned London to see reason and not to precipitate a crisis. The most notable is US uneasiness. The Obama administration warned Britain against turning inward and stressed it wanted to see the UK inside the EU, not outside. Washington is worried that its close ally’s exit would diminish its voice at the bloc, because the US and Britain share common views on several key international issues which are crucial for the former. Other EU members have said that it would be disastrous for Britain to say goodbye and lamented the direction of the debate in the country. A union which is fraying under the weight of multiple crises will be ill-equipped to suffer the consequences of a split. A leader of Angela Merkel’s party bluntly warned that Britain should not blackmail the group by attempting to block treaty changes which have been necessitated by the European crisis. More importantly, some British business leaders have warned Cameron not to jeopardise their country’s membership as it would be detrimental to British business interests.
The current debate on EU in Britain seems to be more nationalistic and emotional than intellectual and objective, and has been dominated by Eurosceptics, which is the result of years of anti-EU populism. A decision must be based on reason and a thorough study of its impact and consequences. This is an issue in which a number of factors are intertwined, like culture, history, geography and language, where a postcolonial self-delusion about British superiority and continental inferiority has given an unhealthy dimension to the debate.
Prime Minister Cameron has a delicate job satisfying both his European friends and the belligerent anti-EU sections in his country. He is showing signs of cracking under pressure but must regain pose and place the interests of his country on top. It’s impossible to satisfy both camps but any decision he takes with conviction will help him weather the crisis.
In the coming weeks, the debate is likely to intensify. Ultimately, if the British public chooses to part ways with the bloc through a referendum, Europeans must accept it with poise. Because, Britons are supremely intelligent and capable of deciding what suit them best – whether a life embedded in Europe or outside it.