Last Friday morning Britain and Europe were shocked by the result of the British EU referendum. As the British vote to leave started to sink in, feeling of shock quickly changed to uncertainty about the future, about the British place in Europe and the world, about the structure and future of the European Union itself. As the day went on politicians, business leaders, media commentators, etc. all gave their responses and tried to assess the future. Few people regretted David Cameron’s election pledge on having a referendum on remaining in the EU. Some commentators blamed British media and politicians on their long history of Euroscepticism and outright lies. What people haven’t really asked is how things even got to this point. I believe that the referendum and its result were the only logical out turn of decade’s long lack of vision and leadership in Britain.
It all started in 1992 when members of the European Economic Community were negotiating new treaty to advance European co-operation into a new level. With Maastricht treaty EEC member states created an entity with its own internal market, with its own currency, with its own foreign- and security policy, with definition of its own citizenship, etc. were all about creating European federal state in all but in name. The writing was in the wall for everyone to see. The British leaders at the time clearly understood the situation and opted out from the last chain that would lead their country into a federation without no easy way out, they opted out from the single currency.
Since 1992 the British political establishment has been turning from side to side on what their relation to EU should be and are they on in its development or not. When in other countries such as Finland joining the EU and single currency was seen not only as economic question but a question of security and politics, British establishment continued to pretend that everything was just about economics and trade. When Euro as currency finally saw its daylight, Britain joining it or not was seen as only as economic question. Most famous example of this thinking are Gordon Browns, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, five economic tests that were designed to give any answer that Brown and then Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted them to give. This indecisiveness can be best underlined from Tony Blair’s interview in Newsnight in May 2002 where he said…
“Should we stand apart from the alliance right on our doorstep as a country? It would be crazy to do that.”
"It is an economic union. We shouldn't, for political reasons, stand aside. I don't believe that would be a fulfilment of our national interest. I believe it would be a betrayal of our national interest."
This is an excellent example of the British establishment’s double think on understanding fully well that EU isn’t just about trade and economics while pretending that is all about economics and trade. Politics of pretending reached their ultimate height in signing of the Lisbon Treaty that the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown signed hours after others alone in a back room.
The British EU referendum result is a wakeup call for the political establishment in the UK. They have to accept that EU is not anymore just a free trade area, but a de-facto federation that will keep advancing on future integration. They and especially British Eurosceptics also have to accept that EU is not going to collapse, they have been predicting imminent collapse of the Euro since 1999 and been wrong every time. The question that British need to ask is do they want to be part of possible European super state and if not then what will their relationship be with it. There was time and maybe there is still to negotiate for creating truly multispeed Europe with Britain being part of it, but the time will run out if British political establishment isn’t truthful to their people. What Britain needs is vision and leadership to implement it, be it vision of Britain in or out of the European Union.