Cameron's Tenure In Question While EU Debate Rages

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Cameron's Tenure In Question While EU Debate Rages
« on: May 17, 2013, 11:25:07 PM »


Cameron's Tenure In Question While EU Debat Rages

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  May 17, 2013 |


British Prime Minister David Cameron is struggling to maintain control over the public debate as the anti-European Union movement within his own government suddenly gains traction, leaving the future of Britain's EU membership and of Cameron?s own tenure up in the air. Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Philip Hammond on May 12 stated that they support withdrawal from the EU in its current form, while polls suggest that a majority of the British public would vote to exit the political and monetary union.

Britain?s Conservative Party has long been torn over Europe and the role that the country should play on the continent. Meanwhile, the ?euroskeptics? were buoyed by the surprisingly strong performance of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in local elections. If anti-EU voices grow louder, Cameron will struggle to avoid being pushed toward a vote on membership, even though the issue itself could doom his own government.

Following an alarmingly strong showing of UKIP in Great Britain?s recent parliamentary elections and comments from ministers within Prime Minister David Cameron?s own cabinet, more than 100 Conservative parliamentarians voted to criticize the current annual agenda, outlined in the ceremonial ?Queen?s Speech.?
They voted so because the speech lacked a pledge to provide a referendum on British membership in the European Union. Such an amendment would have a minuscule chance of passing, considering opposition from the Labor and Liberal Democrat parties, as well as much of the Conservative Party itself. Yet the flap over its absence illustrates the struggle that Cameron faces in keeping his own party on-message regarding Europe.
His high-profile Education Secretary, Michael Gove, made headlines last weekend when he stated his desire to see Britain exit the European Union if the terms of Britain?s membership were not successfully renegotiated. He seeks to repatriate legislative powers that the country has lost to the EU in past decades.
?My preference is for a change in Britain?s relationship with the European Union. My ideal is exactly what the majority of the British public?s ideal is, which is to recognize the current situation is no good, to say that life outside would be perfectly tolerable,? Gove said on a BBC interview program. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond went on to support these statements later in the day, while Home Secretary Theresa May also echoed the remarks.
These developments came as Cameron was on the other side of the Atlantic, attending talks with U.S. President Barack Obama on the subject of a possible trade deal between the United States and the EU. Cameron argued at the meeting that next month's G8 summit should serve as a launch pad for trade negotiations between Europe and the United States, writing in The Wall Street Journal that a free trade ?deal could add as much as ?10 billion to the British economy and ?63 billion ($97 billion) to U.S. GDP.?
The news back home served as a reminder, however, that large segments of the British public and political elite have lost faith in the EU and are actively pushing for the UK to exit the union. Cameron had hoped that announcing a referendum for 2017 would quell dissenting voices within his own party, but that has not happened.
Now it appears he could be merely the latest Conservative Prime Minister in Britain ? following in the footsteps of the late Margaret Thatcher ? to face internal opposition over Europe. This time, however, the UK's path is truly unpredictable. Even Obama has warned the UK to try to fix its relationship with the EU ?before shaking it off.?
Public remarks against EU membership from within the current UK government, subsequently supported by members of the Conservative Party, are especially pertinent because Gove, Hammond and May represent the first cabinet ministers to freely claim that they would vote to exit the EU if a referendum were held today. Cameron's strategy of guaranteeing a referendum on the condition that the vote would occur in four years? time has come under fire within an increasingly impatient government, strengthened by increasing Euroskepticism among the wider public.

In fact, Cameron is less of a Euroskeptic than he seeks to project and supports most of the continent's economic composition. Now it is unclear whether he will be able to delay a referendum until the next government without sacrificing the existence of his own government. While he continues to enjoy the confidence of most coalition ministers over the issue, the political terrain has turned shaky.

According to current plans, a British referendum on the EU would be set to take place after an attempted renegotiation of Britain's current membership terms, a reality that Cameron hopes will strengthen his bargaining power in Brussels. Cameron has argued that he is dissatisfied with the status quo in the EU but that he believes this should be solved through internal negotiation rather than departure.

It is now evident that time to enter such negotiations will be limited: Conservatives in Westminster want swift action and Cameron's leadership could destabilize if he fails to provide it. This is compounded by internal party rivals, such as London Mayor Boris Johnson, who have shared their own anti-EU sentiments publicly and have called for the Prime Minister to ramp up pressure on Brussels.
The timing of new dissenting voices undermines Cameron's current strategy, given that they occurred as the Prime Minister visited Washington, D.C. last week. Both the United States and Britain continue to speak of a symbolic ?special relationship? between the two countries, but there is little doubt of American wariness toward internal political developments across the pond.

The impact of an official trade deal between the EU and USA could prove to be seismic, yet there is little cause for optimism considering the signs of growing disillusion within one of the continent's most powerful economies. White House advisers expressed concern in January when Cameron first announced his plans for a referendum, and these concerns are likely now to be exacerbated. Cameron will have to ensure that the majority of his party remains with him and avoid jeopardizing his country's future in Europe. Pleasing both sides, however, could prove impossible.

The awkward timing of the Conservative rebel ministers? attempt to accelerate a referendum on EU membership is representative of an issue that has long been a thorn in the side of U.K. Conservative Party leaders. Cameron has been criticized for treading too cautiously on Europe and now faces pressure to bring a referendum date forward. He does not want that outcome, nor does Europe itself. Both Cameron and his counterparts in the EU will breathe a sigh of relief if the parliamentary storm blows over, but historical precedent in Britain has shown it may be foolish to expect such an outcome.




« Last Edit: May 18, 2013, 11:34:16 AM by the leveller »

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