No vote may provoke disintegration of UK
The referendum on European Union membership has little to do with Europe and everything to do with the disunited Kingdom.
The debate is exposing growing fault-lines, most importantly within the Conservative Party, which is as divided now as Labour was in 1979.
Britain has come a long way since 1945: from liberating Europe to holding it hostage. Predictably, Cameron’s renegotiation has produced few tangible results.
Treaty changes require unanimity, so that no member state can be forced down the route to ‘ever closer union’.
The new rules for reduced payments for children of EU citizens, who stay in countries with lower living costs, are reasonable.
The British government could probably have agreed them without the ‘renegotiation’. However, Cameron has claimed a status for Britain which is even more ‘special’ than before.
It is special only in one sense, though: Britain, sitting on the fence, has less influence than ever before.
The EU is facing multiple challenges: the Euro crisis, the democratic deficit, the influx of migrants, and aggressive dictators in its neighbourhood.
Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair still advocated policy solutions for common problems like these. In contrast, Britain under Cameron has withdrawn into isolation. Its only remaining national interest seems to be selling more pigs to China.
Eurosceptics on the Right and Left have many complaints about the EU, some of which are justified.
Its decision-making is cumbersome. Some states are slow at implementing much- needed reforms. And the EU still often finds it difficult to speak with one voice in world affairs.
But these problems require more cooperation, not less.
Britain should play a constructive role in making the EU a better place. Alone, a disunited Kingdom would have no role left to play.
A no vote may provoke the disintegration of the UK, not the EU. For the English, what is the alternative?
The plea for free trade is an empty slogan. Britain needs access to the internal market with its laws and technical regulations.
It could negotiate bilateral treaties with the EU or – like Norway – enter the European Economic Area.
In either case Britain will have to assimilate EU law into British law without having had a say in making it.
This really will spell the end of British democracy.