Key British institutions have evolved to become quite different from those of most of its Continental neighbours making it difficult to fit a common mould.
Yanis Varoufakis, recent Finance Minister of Greece, believes his people are persuaded to support the Project by the implicit argument of their rulers that: “If you allow this process of continuing European integration then you can get rid of us”. People are likely to be more keen if they have recently lived under oppression, the EU is mild in comparison to what they’ve known and is a shield against a return to occupation or dictatorship. A relatively benign, voluntary dictatorship is better than a military or Soviet one. Britain has no need of either.
In Britain we haven’t lived under occupation since the Normans; we haven’t lived under a dictatorship since Oliver Cromwell (and he also started out meaning well); our legal system is radically different (see the section on Law); for over 200 years we developed the most globally-connected economic network that had ever existed, before our horizons shrank; our wider links have not yet vanished and are more than ever relevant in today’s digital world.
These differences lead the British to be sceptical about many features of the European Union and this scepticism has resulted in a range of opt-outs through which Britain does not participate in what are elsewhere regarded as key features of the Project. Examples include: ever closer union, the Schengen Agreement, the EMU.
Other Europeans understandably regard British ‘exceptionalism’ as evidence of our disdain for ‘the Continent’, of which they believe that we don’t feel a part. It is fair to note that much euro-scepticism is based in a weak and narrow-minded disdain for anything ‘foreign’. However, this strain of British nativism has no place in a rational argument that acknowledges that Britain is a part of Europe but rejects the basis on which the current European Union is founded and functions.
Britain is already resented by many other EU and EMU members for its main contributions to these ‘clubs’, which amount to continuing demands for special treatment. If we vote to remain in the EU, while excluding ourselves from, among others, EMU, Schengen and ever-closer union, then such resentment will surely increase. Why would other members take seriously any demand from Britain to be included in discussions on key topics? These currently include: the euro zone economy, the migrant crisis, further financial and fiscal integration, and free movement of people. It is naive to believe that such resentments do not exist or will not affect policy judgements. Of course, given the fragility of the Union, if Britain votes to leave then resentments may be even stronger. This is a strange but realistic expectation; Britain will be resented if it stays in the EU and if it leaves. Better to be out, negotiating better business arrangements with the EU, in which self-interest will overcome resentment, than to remain, in which case self-interest will reinforce resentment. If we vote to remain then our most potent negotiating tool vanishes.
Britain, if it remains in the EU, will be a despised fringe player, at best, in a union in which it clearly has little faith. There must be a less top-heavy form of collaboration that would not be so risky and that Britain could participate in wholeheartedly.