Vail Daily column: Decision looms for UK | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Decision looms for UK

Matthew Kennedy
Valley Voices
Matthew Kennedy

The American media under-reported a story several months ago that might directly impact the United States via various means — A key summit between the United Kingdom and the European Union. British Prime Minister David Cameron met his Brussels’ counterparts with demands for the United Kingdom’s remaining in the European Union’s ranks. Both parties reached an agreement surrounding the issue. Cameron announced a national referendum for June 23 to determine whether the United Kingdom stays or departs the European Union a short time later. Several questions need asking: Why is the vote important? What are the disadvantages/advantages of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union? And how might the vote impact the United States’ strategic interests with the United Kingdom and Europe?

The June 23 referendum requires addressing several issues:

• Opponents and proponents of leaving the European Union argue the United Kingdom’s strategic position will be strengthened, but for different reasons.

• The European Union’s status will be buttressed if British voters reaffirm the United Kingdom’s membership; the organization’s eventual disintegration and a heightening of tensions across Europe are inevitable without a vote.

• The Obama administration opposes a British European Union departure for different economic and strategic reasons.

The United Kingdom’s status within the European Union came to the forefront of European affairs in 2015 after David Cameron won re-election. The event occurred partially via a promise to hold a nationwide referendum over the issue by 2017 at the latest. Saturday’s announcement of the June 23 vote was surprising

Cameron’s primary concerns about the United Kingdom’s status within the European Union evolved various immigration issues, London’s political integration into the Brussels organization, and the status of British financial firms. Brussels agreed to allow the United Kingdom to limit migrant benefits. British businesses will not face restrictions on their operations within the European Union’s member states; and finally London would not be forced to accept Brussels’ political mandates. The question now is whether the European Union’s concessions are sufficient for the British electorate to remain within Brussels’ ranks — or whether London will leave regardless.

Opponents of leaving the European Union include the prime minister, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats and Wales’ prime political party, Plaid Cymru. Opponents argue membership endows British business with various economic benefits such as enhanced selling opportunities, whereas those advantages will end without membership status. They contend allowing immigrants from the various European Union members fuels economic growth and assists with the payment of public services. Finally, they believe leaving the European Union would damage London’s foreign policy clout in and out of Europe.

Proponents of abandoning the European Union include the Independence Party, different members of the Conservative Party and various members of Prime Minister Cameron’s cabinet. Proponents contend the European Union’s rules are too restrictive on British businesses. They object to the European Union’s requirement that anyone from within the Union can work and live without hindrance in any member state. They are also wary of an augmentation and enhancement of the organization’s power at the expense of British independence.

Another subject is the potential ramifications the referendum will have on the European Union and United Kingdom’s future. Remaining will strengthen the European Union’s internal and external status. It will inject a relief and enthusiasm within the Institution’s supporters that the organization can address and resolve seemingly difficult domestic and foreign affairs issues. A “no” vote may lead to the European Union’s eventual collapse. Many members may follow London’s example and leave the European Union. The scenario is plausible with states whose domestic audiences believe their countries are subjugating too much sovereign power to Brussels. And finally, an abandonment of the European Union may compel many within Scotland to renew calls for independence from the United Kingdom. Many Edinburgh officials support the European Union. Various Scottish policymakers may see a British abandonment of the European Union as not in Edinburgh’s interests — and revisit the independence issue consequently

The Obama administration opposes a British withdrawal from the European Union. Washington believes the European Union strategically benefits from London’s presence. Administration officials warn an exit will adversely impact U.S.-United Kingdom trade relations. A departure from the European Union’s ranks will require the United States to renegotiate its financial affiliation with both entities; the administration notes Washington will interact with London last over the issue, if a departure happens. The United Kingdom also risks jeopardizing its foreign policy vitality and clout within American circles with a departure vote.

Cameron remarked shortly after announcing the June 23 referendum, “We are approaching one of the biggest decisions this country will face in our lifetimes.” The issue is equally dividing the British electorate and the country’s principal political organizations the Labour and Conservative parties. The United Kingdom is facing an emotional vote of conscience currently unparalleled by any event except the American presidential election. The next several months will be very interesting.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He has lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to intl.affairs@yahoo.com.