The British vote in midweek looks more and more like endorsing withdrawal from the European Union.
But the process looks increasingly messy. The U.S., whose sponsorship of a united Europe has played a huge role in the past six decades, now appears powerless to limit the chaos. Pres. Barack Obama’s intervention to endorse the U.K. remaining in the European Union apparently backfired. Polls showed an immediate growth of the Brexit sentiment among U.K. voters. Obviously, British public opinion resented U.S. interference, especially from an Administration that has made no secret of its antagonism for the historic role between London and Washington and often denigrated its heroes, including Winston Churchill.
Theoretically, Article 50 of the Union agreement permits a member to withdraw over a two-year period with a minimum of controversy. But the backers of withdrawal in London have indicated they want to have their cake and eat it too. Some of the more prominent spokesmen for the British exit have argued that London must be given time to work out new details of commercial, trade and legal relations with the remaining 23 members. That, obviously would take more time than an immediate vote and quit which the referendum originally seemed to indicate.
Furthermore, it’s pointed out that a formal act of Parliament for withdrawal will take time in what many expect to be the chaotic political situation which would follow a withdrawal. Prime Minister David Cameron has advocated remaining in “Europe” – if with new special arrangements for Britain extending beyond its continued present absence from the monetary union. One of Britain’s highest priorities, for example, would be to again gain complete control over its immigration policies. At a time when the Schengen Agreement which endorsed complete freedom of movement [including of the labor force] among the EU’s members, that would only add additional controversy to already irascible problems at a time of high unemployment. There is a growing consensus in London that Cameron would have to go if Britain does vote to withdraw, even though his successors in the Conservative Party – not to mention Labor’s newly elected leftwing leadership – would not have his oersonal popularity and to some extent, commanding presence.
Paris, Berlin and Brussels have all expressed their opposition to such a step-by-step withdrawal by the British. They want Article 50 to be the only mechanism for the U.K..exit and to be followed swiftly. This sentiment is not only resentment of the British action in general and the coyness of some of its sponsors. But with so many internal basic issues now being debated among those who would remain in the EU, any kind of arguments over a British exit – if it comes – would be a new disaster affecting the whole proposed renegotiation n of the Union.
Germany and up to a point, France, the two most important remaining members of the EU, believe that further political integration is necessary if the EU is to prosper. They are led, of course, by the unelected Brussels bureaucracy which sees new power in such developments. But there is opposition to strengthening a federal government, even in The Netherlands and Denmark, and certainly among the Central European members who have always been at the periphery of the movement for integration.
As Obama’s gaff proved, American leadership in the next European developments will be missing for the first time in almost six decades. About all Washington can do, is stand by wringing it hands as the Europeans try to sort out their own differences.