The rise of the tea party-like party United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the United Kingdom may be leading the island nation towards a split with the European Union. The third-party objects to the migration policies due to membership in the EU and may cause a split among conservatives ahead of the next election, thereby giving power to the Labour party. With the election in mind, Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum to voters on the matter in order to woo conservative voters away from UKIP. Should the conservatives remain in power, a referendum is likely and may mean that the UK would seek to leave the European Union and not renegotiate the terms of its membership.
Migration and the economy are two of the reasons why the United Kingdom is seeking to renegotiate with the EU. The UK economy has thrived while that of Europe has seen its hard times. That has led some Europeans to migrate to Britain in order to find work and benefit from its economic bounty. Because of the EU’s migration laws, that is relatively easy to do. But Cameron has said that he wants to limit migration to a net annual immigration to fewer than 100,000, as well as more stringent welfare rules for immigrants and denial of entry to any future EU members.
While Cameron personally wants to see the pact with the European Union renegotiated and changed in favor of the United Kingdom, UKIP seeks to leave altogether. Much like the ultra-conservative tea party movement in America, UKIP is an upstart third-party disillusioned with mainstream conservatives and rising quickly to power. It has attracted voters with its “unashamedly patriotic” views and nationalistic policies. Leaving the European Union is one of those policies and represents a potential wedge issue for conservatives in the next election. The mainline conservatives have already lost seats to UKIP and could possibly lose power altogether if the vote is split.
Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond was quoted as having said that the possibility of a referendum is “lighting a fire under the European Union” with the possibility that the UK could leave. He argues that the threat of leaving puts them in a strong negotiating position. However, the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso has cautioned against a negative attitude on the part of the UK. According to him the EU is willing to negotiate with the country and acknowledges the strong position it is in economically, but he reaffirmed that any agreement would have to be in accordance with the principles of the EU. The limits on migration advocated by UKIP and the conservatives may be in violation of those principles, which would have to be ironed out in negotiation.
However, Barroso put the situation in perspective when he talked about the consequences to the United Kingdom should it actually withdraw from the union entirely. “Inside the European Union,” he said, “you can get much more than outside the European Union.” His argument is that Britain’s influence is aided by its membership in the EU and would considerably diminish without that membership. America seems to agree with that view and would prefer it if the UK remained in the EU. This is in part because the United States sees Britain as a bridge between it and Europe and sees it as a valuable strategic contact with the Continent.
Cameron’s rhetoric on the proposed referendum and the EU seems to be well suited to his electoral concerns. Besides promising the referendum, he warned that only a Conservative government would provide that chance to voters, if they get re-elected. He also sought to woo those patriotic UKIP voters by reassuring them that he cares “a thousand times more strongly” about the United Kingdom rather than the UK. This is meant to reassure Euroskeptics who dislike the close ties between the island nation and Europe. With the future of the conservative government in question and warning signs of a split large enough to put Labour in power, Cameron seems to be playing defense by intimating that the UK may seek to leave the European Union.
By Lydia Bradbury