TODAY the British will vote in their “Brexit” referendum whether to stay in or exit from the European Union.
The United Kingdom applied for the first time to join what was then called the European Economic Community, in 1961. The Brit movers for membership were afraid their country would get politically isolated from Western Europe. At that time the USA’s and its allies’ Cold War with the Soviet Union was still ablaze.
UK’s bid for EEC membership had strong US support but the French Government (with Gen. De Gaulle as President) vetoed it in 1963 and also the second British application in 1967. Only on Jan. 1, 1973 did the UK (along with Denmark and Ireland) get to join the EEC.
At first opposed to EEC membership, the UK Labour Party wanted to renegotiate the membership but settled for a referendum to determine if the people of Britain really wanted to remain in the EEC. In the referendum held in 1975, 67 percent of the Brits voted to remain.
These days, polls show only a slight majority of the British public to be in favor of remaining.
This is because the Brits are doing very well compared to the countries of the EU, whose only solidly rich country is Germany. Europe seems to be in one kind of economic crisis after another.
The problem of refugees flooding into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa has become too much for the EU countries to bear. It has caused anti-immigrant militancy among the poor in nearly every European country. Terrorist ISIS bombings in Paris and Brussels and false-alarm news of new attacks are agitating Europeans, who have lost their former sense of security.
These tensions in the continent have made the anti-Europe side in Britain restive. For decades now they have been calling for their country’s exit from the EU.
Today’s Brexit referendum, if won by the Yes side, would still have to be ratified by the British parliament. The majority and ruling Conservatives would not dare go against the winning public vote.
But for all the mess that Europe is in, it is still in the British people’s best interest to stay in the EU and keep it whole. For if the UK exits it, some other countries, also fed up with having to bear the continent’s troubles and having to share their wealth with the poorer European countries that are always in need of aid, would promptly follow the British lead. Europe would then break up.
The UK would also lose a lot of the economic advantages it has in the continent as an EU member. For one, a lot of the British products that are sold in Europe tariff-free would cost more to EU customers. And it is, despite any cultural protests from Frenchmen, looked up to as the country that is EU’s political leader, and shares EU’s economic leadership with Germany.
It is not true, as Brexit proponents argue, that Britain would become stronger by leaving the EU. It would instead become weaker. And it would begin to face problems in dealing with countries in Europe—as an outsider.