Albion at the E.U. Exit Door

Article excerpt

Britain's exit from the European Union would be bad for Britain, Europe and the United States.

Storm clouds are darkening over Britain's relationship with the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron is backing away from the Union, ostensibly seeking to fashion the more distant relationship between London and Brussels needed to keep the U.K. in the E.U. But he may well be putting in motion a political process that will culminate in Britain's exit from Europe.

That outcome would deal a serious blow to European solidarity, deny the E.U. the valuable role that London continues to play in guiding economic integration and the enlargement of the Union, and shake the foundations of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Before Britain's self-isolation becomes irreversible, Europeans and Americans alike had better face up to the potential consequences of the U.K.'s growing estrangement from the E.U.

Britain has long kept its European neighbors at arm's length. The British empire banked on "splendid isolation," relying on the English Channel as a buffer against continental entanglement. London initially stood apart from the project of European integration started after World War II. Britain finally joined the European Community in 1973, but has since opted out of the euro zone and other collective initiatives. Protecting British sovereignty from the encroachments of "Eurocrats" in Brussels has consistently served as a political call to arms.

This longstanding discomfort about getting too close to Europe now appears to be morphing into a dangerous stampede for the exit. The Parliament recently voted down Cameron's already stingy proposal on the E.U. budget. Pressed by Euro-skeptics in his own party, Cameron is edging toward committing to a popular referendum on membership in the E.U. (Recent polls reveal that 48 percent of voters favor withdrawal, with 31 percent against).

Cameron himself favors Britain's continued membership in the E.U., but only if the country is able to negotiate a more attenuated relationship. He wants to consolidate a "two-speed" E.U. in which members outside the euro zone would contribute less to the Union budget and form their own caucus. He has also indicated that his government will repatriate control of key aspects of social policy and law enforcement from Brussels. …