Not quite what it seems.
The level of debate about Britain’s future in the EU is getting interesting, because the Eurozone crisis is throwing up opportunities, and not just for eurosceptics either. There are some who advocate a straight British vote followed by a walkout, but other calmer heads are beginning to see another option. If Chancellor Merkel is to amend the Lisbon treaty, it’s very hard to see David Cameron agreeing to any changes to the treaty (which will have to go through the Commons and Lords) without getting some sort of quid pro quo for his trouble, such as British membership being transformed into access to the single market and opt outs on everything else.
This would, of course, open the treaty up to debate as every country starts looking for stuff, which could cause the talks to rumble on as the markets look on aghast. But it could also allow Britain and other eurosceptic countries (Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Czech republic, Slovakia, possibly Ireland) to push for a new reduced form of associate membership. If it could be done tidily, indeed if Cameron now were to (even secretly) begin negotiating a draft treaty text agreeable to Britain’s potential allies, he could present a fait accompli to Chancellor Merkel as the price for agreeing to the creation of a fiscal union for those countries that want it. It would surely be Cameron’s greatest moment.
Or would it? Firstly, let’s be honest. It would not be the disaster that more excitable British pro-Europeans claim. Britain is an important trading partner for most EU countries, and so an amicable arrangement will be arrived at to accommodate the New European Free Trade Area (NEFTA). And yes, Britain will save money by not contributing as much to EU coffers, although it will, as Norway does, still be required to pay a membership fee. Money which, by the way, Britain will have no say in spending, as Britain will no longer have a commssioner or MEPs or a seat at the council of ministers. As for the end of regulation, there’s some truth in that. Britain will no longer have to apply the social legislation, like workers rights. But British manufactured products will still have to obey EU regulations and standards to be sold in the EU, this time without British ministers and commissioners fighting the British case. British industry will still be told what to do by Brussels. And yes, it is true, Britain will now be able to speak for Britain at the WTO. Once the US, EU, China, India, Brazil, Japan and Russia decide the big stuff. Then Britain can have her say.
Finally, I look forward to eurosceptics looking across the English channel at the 150-200 million integrated economic behemoth that they will have little or no control over. Well done chaps!