European Union Exit? Concerns Grow for Britain
By Stephen Castle, NY Times, October 27, 2012
LONDON—Is Britain moving inexorably toward the European Union’s exit door?
When the European Union unexpectedly won the Nobel Peace Prize this month, the leaders of Germany, France and Italy spoke of their pride. But the British prime minister, David Cameron, maintained an awkward silence.
Before that, the British government said it wanted to exercise an opt out of an estimated 133 areas of European Union police and judicial cooperation to which it had once agreed.
And Mr. Cameron supported a plan for a new budget for countries that use the euro (which Britain does not), something that would place his nation firmly in Europe’s outer tier. The prime minister has been hinting that he could hold a referendum on Britain’s relations with the union, and one newspaper reported recently that a senior cabinet minister wants Britain to threaten openly to leave the 27-nation bloc. There was no official denial of the report.
All of which has fueled concerns that Britain is laying plans for what political and financial pundits have dubbed “Brixit,” a variant on “Grexit”—the shorthand for Greece’s much predicted if currently forestalled departure from the euro zone.
Britain has always been ambivalent about the European project. Unlike the founding six nations, all of them defeated or occupied in World War II, Britain was a victor. In national mythology, the war was neither a moment of disgrace nor a humiliation. On the contrary, it was widely considered the country’s finest hour, when it stood alone against fascism.
So the idea of reconciliation through integration never had the appeal in Britain that it did on the Continent. Unlike many other member countries, Britain always paid more into the union in contributions than it received in subsidies.
Now, with the euro zone almost three years in crisis, British public opinion has hardened. The overwhelming majority of Conservative lawmakers are euro skeptics, and many privately favor withdrawal.