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David Herdson says “Britain’s EU exit is now when, not if”

June 28th, 2014

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The Juncker class are the problem not the solution

The nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as next EU Commission President has moved Britain substantially closer to leaving the Union.  On the one hand, Britain was marginalised in a process that has traditionally been built on consensus; on the other, the attitude of the Euro-elite – including Juncker – to the European Parliament election results has been to ignore the opposition to the EU direction of travel and carry on as normal.

The justification from Juncker and his allies is a simple one: his party group won the election and therefore as their nominee, he has the right to the job.  It’s an argument the Socialists back, though as the only other group who could benefit from it, their support is hardly disinterested.  Even so, they’re both wrong.  The EPP did not win the election.  They might have ended with most seats but were 155 seats short of a majority; in terms of dynamics, they went rapidly backwards.  If the leaders were really taking account of the EP results, they would nominate someone pledged to reform rather than more of the same but it’s clear that’s not what they want.

Consequently, both the fact of Juncker’s nomination and the reasons for it mean that Cameron’s stated objective of achieving EU reform is now very visibly more difficult than ever.  Not only will there be little support for it from the Commission or many other leaders but it will be a tougher domestic sell too: if he can’t win this fight, how can he win the much more difficult one he’d like to take on?  It’s a question UKIP will no doubt keep raising and which could well make a small but not insignificant impact at the 2015 election – which of course Cameron has to win if negotiations are even to start.

There have always been three likely medium-term routes to UK exit.  The first is that a Cameron-led government negotiates but fails to convince the UK electorate in the ensuing referendum; the second is that such a government fails to even win an agreement it can itself back (or which the Tory Party and MPs force it to refuse to back), and so supports Out; the third is that Labour form the next government, for both the Tories and the country move to even more Eurosceptic positions during that parliament and then for the Tories return to office in 2020 with EU exit on their platform.  All three have become more likely these last few days to the extent that I’d make it odds-on that Britain leaves sometime within the next decade.

The analysis, vision and principles that Cameron laid out in his speech on the EU in January 2013 remain as valid now as then, particularly his explicit rejection of the ‘ever closer union’ commitment.  What’s clear is that the European Council has, by nominating someone so bound up in and committed to the EuroProject as Juncker, chosen to reject both that alternative route and the surge of opinion across the EU opposed to the status quo that the Juncker class represents.

If that is so, then there doesn’t seem any obvious reason why they should change their mind or attitude after 2015.  As such, reform may be all but impossible.  In which case, British exit is merely a question of when, not if.

David Herdson