Many British citizens appear to believe that Britain would be better off staying in the European Union, if only the terms of membership could be renegotiated. Definitions of the nature of the necessary changes vary. But there is an apparent desire to move to a more arms-length relationship with the EU. Pending the outcome of “renegotiation”, the argument is that one should wait-and-see.
This is a complete fantasy. The terms of membership of the European Union are set by the treaties which successive UK governments have (shamefully) signed. They cannot be changed except by fundamental change to the EU treaties. For a number of reasons of timetable and legal process, such changes cannot be achieved within the timetable Cameron has set out for holding a UK referendum — or in practical terms at all. The acquis communautaire — the acquired body of European Union legislation — cannot be repudiated by a ‘member state’ without leaving the Union.
What is also clear, though, is that the ‘leaders’ of the EU are desperate to shore up the structure of the eurozone, and are bent on exploiting current tensions to take a further major step towards financial, economic and political union — among the current eurozone countries. And the remaining ‘member states’? Plans have already been made to offer them a form of ‘Associate Membership’. This may protect against ‘ever closer union’; and will be trumpeted as a major triumph delivering the ‘best of both worlds’. But crucially it will not repatriate to the British people a single one of the powers already ceded to and exercised by the European Commission. Engrenage — the gearing or ratchet process which is core to the EU’s evolution — has no reverse direction.
Cameron hopes to deceive the British people into supporting continued membership of the European Union. All he can conceivably offer is cosmetic change. There is no ‘wait-and-see’ option. Exit from the European Union is — on principle — the only way to restore British sovereignty.