Britain is playing with fire as it ponders an exit from the European Union

Britons share many of the values their continental counterparts. Together, they are a strong counterbalance to the US. Apart, they will be less of a global force

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 12:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 12:57am

Britain stands apart from the European Union because of its geography, history and politics. But any decision for it to leave the 28-member bloc would be as bad for the island nation as the grouping. The referendum called by British Prime Minister David Cameron for June 23 is crucial economically for both and, by association, trading partners like China. Every effort has to be made to keep the union strong by ensuring it remains intact.

Opinion polls show the British public is finely balanced on whether the nation should exit the EU. If that is not a tough enough sell for the pro-union Cameron, he is battling a revolt within his Conservative Party from Eurosceptic members, among them cabinet ministers and London Mayor Boris Johnson, a potential future prime minister.

A deal struck by Cameron in Brussels last Friday to give his country special status was a signal for a push for opting out. Rivals argue that the pact, which gives the government limited curbs on welfare to deal with concerns about high levels of migration and excludes Britain from the founding principle of “ever-closer union”, is mostly symbolic.

Johnson is one of Britain’s most charismatic political figures; he gives the exit campaign a popular figurehead. He and supporters argue that leaving the EU would return the right of self-rule and democracy. But Cameron has said a vote to quit would be a “leap in the dark” and from the point of view that no country has before made the move, he is right.

Such uncertainty is why Britain’s currency, the pound sterling, has fallen in value and the chairmen or chief executives of 36 FTSE 100 companies have signed a letter urging a vote to stay in the EU.

Bosses worry that opting out would deter investment in Britain and put tens of thousands of people out of work. Membership is expensive, but a major advantage is enabling British companies to export goods easily and cheaply to Europe. With Britain being the EU’s second and world’s fifth-biggest economic power and the bloc’s premier destination for foreign investment, that also works in the union’s favour.

A British exit would also make the EU weaker globally as it would be denied a nuclear-armed permanent member of the UN Security Council, leaving France the bloc’s only such nation. Britons share many of the values and progressive social policies of their continental counterparts. Together, they are a strong counterbalance to the US. Apart, they will be less of a global force.