By Vexen Crabtree 2017
Janan Ganesh describes the UK as "reluctant Europeans"1,2. The UK has voted "no" to EU proposals more than anyone else since 20093. We dislike learning about the EU, we don't keep up to date on EU news4, the most prolific newspapers on the EU don't have correspondents in Brussels, and the UK is the least educated of all EU nations on the very basic facts about the EU5. We are "marked by misguided assumptions and missed opportunities"2. UK citizens' complaints about the EU are mostly based on misinformation, such as complaints about "health tourism"6. The UK has suffered from having a dominant right-wing popular press which has served to actively misinform the populace about Europe, and about the EU in particular - the faction led by Rupert Murdoch has been particularly influential7. The eventual result was the UK referendum on 2016 Jun 23 which saw "Brexit" votes narrowly outnumber those of "Remain", leading to the UK withdrawal from the EU.
The UK is infamous for "the opt-out"; two of the most significant being on the Euro and Schengen (open borders agreement),8. 'A protocol of the Lisbon Treaty insulates Britain from the effects of the Charter of Fundamental Rights'8 and 'on issues including foreign affairs, defence and policing the UK has a veto on policy'. In fact: The UK has voted "no" more than any other government since 2009 (the previous record holder was Austria). Although we have been out-voted on 55 pieces of legislation from 1999 to 2014, it is worth noting that we have voted "yes" on 2466 policies in the same period. So the rate we have been denied what we wanted is actually very small - around 2%.3
In some areas, the UK is particularly aversive: "In the ten years from Amsterdam  onwards the number of UK opt-outs on Justice and Home Affairs measures was as big as the number of opt-ins", writes Gordon Brown9, a previous UK Prime Minister.
Because the UK (including many of its politicians) are so poorly involved in the EU there is much miscommunication and misinformation. On 2011 Dec 09 after a series of debates, the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron vetoed a proposed treaty on the Euro:
“"Nobody understood what Cameron wanted - nobody", said one diplomat from a central European country that might be considered a natural ally of the UK. [...] Britain will [now] be outside a new intergovernmental treaty which has the backing of the EU's 26 other member states. [...] Britain's isolation was the despair of those who want the country to fight its corner in protecting the single market.”
George Parker and Alex Barker (2013)10
“The Tories began falling out of love with Europe more than 30 years ago when Margaret Thatcher demanded cuts in Britain's contribution to Brussels. Then came the Iron Lady's clashes with Jacques Delors, the head of the European Commission, a treaty on monetary union she always opposed and Britain's humiliating departure from the European exchange rate mechanism. [...]
As for the UK's partners - France as much as Germany, Italy alongside Ireland - their position is clear enough: they want Britain to stay, but if it seeks concessions that challenge the basic structure of the Union, it would be better for everyone if it left.”
Philip Stephens (2013)11
The UK became increasingly awkward in the 2010s, with lots of generic talk of "seizing back powers" and "renegotiating the relationship with the EU" - but it transpired, not through the democratic means of the EU Parliament. UK Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that he'd simply veto (for example) any new treaty changes that involve tendering the Euro "unless he won back some powers"4.
“Mr Cameron's comments sparked dismay in Berlin, with Gunther Krichbaum, an ally of Ms Merkel from the Christian Democratic Union, accusing him of blackmailing other states. Ms Merkel also fears that Mr Cameron's plan to unpick existing policies could create a free-for-all, with France and other protectionist-minded countries trying to undo the rules governing the single market - the part of the EU that Mr Cameron likes most.”
George Parker and Quentin Peel (2013)4
As a result, this had the unfortunate effect of making the EU find ways to circumvent the UK by forming a core club of countries (including 8 non-Euro countries) that are interested in financial stability, and passing the treaty amongst themselves. The UK's influence declined further.
When the UK first joined the European Economic Community it was after much delay and worry, and resistance from of the other established countries. French president de Gaulle said in 1967 that the UK's entry to the EEC would cause "destructive upheavals" and "complete overthrow of its equilibrium"12 and that the UK showed a "deep-seated hostility" towards European integration and a "lack of interest" in the Common Market13. Although we proved the French wrong through making good contributions to the EU, it was accompanied by seemingly constant whinging and a failure to reign-in the counterproductive sensationalism and hate-mongering of the mainstream press - the faction led by Rupert Murdoch has been particularly influential7.
The initial debates sparked enough national interest for the referendum on continued membership in 1975 to fall confidently on the Remain side:
“When Britain first held a referendum in 1975 on whether to remain in the then European Economic Community, 67 per cent voted in favour. It seemed as though the agonising question of Britain's role in Europe had been permanently resolved. [...] David Watt, the FT's political editor at the time, argued that the 1975 vote - the most overwhelming expression of popular will in British electoral history - had banished the issue from the centre of British politics. As Watt reported, the result elicited an enthusiastic response from Britain's European partners, the US administration, the City of London, and British industry.”
John Thornhill, deputy editor Financial Times (2013)14
We, the UK, have led the EU on many issues, contributed constructively, and altered the course of many policies - "Mrs Thatcher was the champion of the single market" and "John Major led the charge for the Union's enlargement to include the post-Communist democracies"11. But the populace did not remain involved and although the politicians and enthusiasts knew what was going on, many others lost touch, especially amongst the underprivileged.EU countries, it is the UK's citizens who are the least knowledgeable about the EU (the most well-informed are those in Slovenia, Luxembourg and Croatia)5. Humorously, data released by Google shows that ... well, the Washington Post's article on it summarized it the best: "The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it" (2016 Jun 24).
Several of the campaigns against the EU in the referendum on Brexit have unravelled, and none of the key positive agendas are being adhered to. In a truly shocking revelation, the Leave campaign Director Dominic Cummings admits that the public voted to exit the EU as a result of lies and misinformation.
“Buried in a 19,800 word Spectator essay written by former online editor and Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings is an admission: The Brexit referendum was won by lying to the public. [...] There is the admission that the NHS wouldn´t really take back our £350 million EU fee, and that immigration wouldn´t really be capped, and that standards of living wouldn´t really change if we left the EU. All of which are matters that the general public voted on, and all are incorrect.”
“Nigel Farage is infamous for his pointlessly rude and ignorant rants against EU politicians. In typically poor English - one of the traits he hates in foreigners - he told the entire EU parliament in 2016 that "I know that virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives, or worked in business, or worked in trade, or indeed ever created a job"15. But Farage's voting record is truly atrocious even on issues that directly affect the UK (even whilst claiming EU expenses and wages). For example, of 42 meetings of the EU Fisheries Committee he has only turned up once, and in 2014 he teamed with Marine Le Pen (from Front National, a right-wing nationalist party of France) to raise a motion of their own, he didn't even show up to vote for it16. It is intentional time-wasting. His embarrassing and ill-informed rants have cast the UK a poor light despite the efforts of our other (hard-working) MEPs in the EU Parliament.”
“After the UK's population voted for 'Brexit' from the EU in June 2016, the EU appointed Michel Barnier to lead a team of legal experts. A full year later, he complained that the UK had still not appointed a representative to talk to him17. The UK arrived late and unprepared for negotiations, and engaged in a series of embarrassing and harmful name-calling tactics, publicly insulting the very people they were trying to negotiate with18. A month into talks, and Mr Barnier is still trying to ascertain what the UK's stance is on most issues19. The UK government has been surprised by simple facts: It argued that Euratom's treaty only covers uranium even whilst its own scientific advisors cried out that hospitals need Euratom to source medical isotopes from Belgium, the Netherlands and France as the UK doesn't have the specialist nuclear reactors to make its own20. And as July 2017 drew to a close, the UK government finally thought to commission a year-long investigation on the economic and employment ramifications of losing EU workers. Most other responsible governments would have engaged in a fact-finding mission before making the most important decision made for 40 years. Most of the prominent "Brexiteers" have themselves exited the scene21, leaving a void filled with politicians who are pursuing a policy they don't think is good for their own country.
But before the people rise up against all this disorganisation, it is worth noting that it is not just Conservative politicians who are uninformed about the EU; in 2016 researchers found that the UK's citizens were the least knowledgeable about the EU5. After the vote, humorously, data released by Google shows that ... well, the Washington Post summarized it the best: "The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it". The UK has suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers that have managed to misinform the masses on almost every aspect of EU involvement with the UK.”
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Daily Express. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Right-wing newspaper..
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
(2016) Europe & You: South West. Published by The In Campaign Ltd, London, UK. Dated January / February 2016. A newspaper-style leaflet delivered to homes in the South West. This body resulted from debates surrounding UK's possible exit from the EU, with a vote being held in 2016 Jun 23.
(2016) Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Deerpark Press, Selkirk, UK.
The Financial Times
(2013) Britain and the EU: In or Out?. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Drawn from articles originally published in the Financial Times between 1975 and March 2013.