‘EU would be better off without Britain’
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron might bring forward the referendum on the country's EU membership. It's reported that it could be held by June 2016 instead of 2017.
RT: Why does the British PM want to have the referendum earlier?
Neil Clark: I think one of the reasons why David Cameron might be keen to have the referendum earlier rather than later, in other words in 2016 and not in 2017, is because by 2017 and 2018 the government’s unpopularity would be much greater than in 2016 because of the impact of the swinging cuts that the government is introducing. Only last week we heard the Chancellor [of the Exchequer] instructing government’s departments to make 40 percent cuts in their spending. We’ve got billions of pounds with the welfare cuts coming through and so I think that the popularity of the British government will be very low indeed in 2017. From that point of view it would make sense for Cameron to have the referendum in June 2016.
RT: Some believe that Cameron wants an early referendum due to the EU’s recent efforts to keep Greece in the eurozone. What are your thoughts?
NC: …People have looked at Greece and they have seen the bullying by the EU. It’s supposed to be for the democracy of the EU, and yet we saw very clearly the bullying that went on against the Greek people, against the Greek government to accept these very onerous terms. So I think the support for the EU has actually fallen because of that and particularly interesting is the view of the left in Britain…When we had the previous referendum on Europe in 1975 large sections of the left were opposed to us being in the then European Community. But since the 90s the left became more pro-EU and accepted it. They thought it could be progressive; there were measures of the EU such as the Social Chapter looking after workers’ rights. But now I think a lot of the Left has woken up to the fact that the EU isn’t progressive at all, quite the opposite. The EU policies are destroying jobs, living standards for working people across the continent. And the biggest impact of Greece has been on the left in Britain because a lot of left-wing or center-wing commentators have changed their mind about the EU. I think Greece has been quite significant in particularly changing the views of people on the center-left and the left in Britain.
RT: Is the issue of immigration important here as a lot of people are coming from EU countries to Britain?
NC: I think it works both ways of course because of the free movement of labor. We have a lot of immigration from EU countries particularly from countries in the East, Poland particularly. But of course you must not forget that an awful lot of British people live in EU countries, a large British community in Spain for instance. So I think that works both ways. The argument about leaving the EU is going to be about sovereignty and it’s going to be about what kind of institution the EU is, because a lot of people in Britain have woken up to the fact that the EU isn’t a kind of good cop. For a long time, particularly on the left, people saw the US presidents going around the world bombing countries, invading them. They were the bad cops and the EU was the good cop. But now Greece has shown that that’s a bit simplistic. The EU has lost an awful lot of credibility in the last few years, the imposition of the euro and the austerity packages, the impoverishment of Greece. People’s views have changed and it’s because of the perception of the EU. That’s going to be the big factor in this referendum. People have an increasingly negative view of the EU as a meddling organization that doesn’t do too much good to be honest. There are some good things the EU does but I think that negatives are outweighing the positives at the moment.
RT: What impact will a Brexit have on the EU?
NC: I actually think that the EU would be better off without Britain because there is a strong case for Britain leaving and the British interest would be suited by leaving the EU. I think it would be strong case from the EU point of view. They would be better off without Britain. Why do I say that? This is quite clear that certainly on foreign policy it’s been Britain – one of the leading countries pushing the EU on some very bad foreign policy decisions for example lifting the arms embargo on the so-called Syrian rebels a couple of years ago. That was pushed through by Britain. A lot of these weapons ended up in hands of ISIS. Britain is basically pushing the US case in foreign policy through the EU and that’s why of course President Obama like other US presidents before him have urged Britain to stay in the EU because they want Britain in there. Charles de Gaulle, the great president of France, one of the reasons he didn’t want Britain in the then European Economic Community, he said “If we are inviting Britain in, we are inviting America in.” That’s a very important point. Europe would be better off without British membership and also of course the economic policies. Britain has been pushing these very extreme neoliberal policies through the EU which I don’t think have been good for Europe. On both those grounds, on economic policies and on the foreign policy the impact of the British withdrawal from the EU would be actually positive for the rest of the Europe and there would be good things for Britain too. The case for leaving is pretty strong.
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