Will Britain Exit the European Union? The Rise of a Small Party Makes that Scenario More Likely

Why a rising protest party in Britain could have momentous consequences for the country’s government – and the rest of Europe.

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Lidove Noviny / Viktor Chlad / isifa / Getty Images

Nigel Farage gives an interview during a June 18, 2012 visit to Prague.

When Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron delivers his much-anticipated speech on the European Union later this month, his audience at home and abroad will be listening intently. Euroskeptics hope he will signal a radical redrawing of the U.K.’s relationship with Europe. Others, including 10 leading British businessmen such as Richard Branson, signatories to a Jan. 8 open letter in the Financial Times, fear “wholesale renegotiation” could “create damaging uncertainty for British business” or lead to Britain exiting altogether. Such a scenario once seemed remote, but increasing  numbers of Britons would apparently cheer such an outcome, according to opinion polls. Riding that wave—and driving it—is Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP). Until recently, UKIP was a small political party in Britain with seemingly no chance of making political waves. “We are a very important catalyst for change in the national debate on a wide range of subjects and a completely alternative view,” Farage boasted to the Guardian this week, after months of watching his anti-Europe party gaining in popularity.

A Jan. 5 opinion poll by Survation/Mail on Sunday showed UKIP currently in third place among Britain’s political parties with 16% support. That puts the right-wing fringe party ahead of the Liberal Democrat party, the Conservatives’ junior partner in the U.K.’s governing coalition. Though people often tell pollsters they’re likely to go one way and then vote the other, UKIP has recently done well in real elections too. On Nov. 29, the party came second in two parliamentary by-elections, beating the Conservatives and the LibDems, and prompting Farage to tell reporters at the time, “We’re connecting with people and that’s not going to go away.”

UKIP has yet to win any parliamentary seats and, until 2012, hadn’t made much of a political impact at all. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, in 2006, dubbed UKIP members “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”; now he needs to woo the people he disparaged.

Britain’s first-past-the-post system for Westminster elections slows the rise of small parties. But according to Anthony Wells, a pollster for YouGov and UK Polling Report, UKIP is now in an excellent position to capture the protest vote that’s no longer going to go to the LibDems.  A vote for UKIP, Wells says, is “an anti-immigration vote, it’s a protest against the government vote, it’s a general I’m-uncomfortable-with-the-status-of-modern-Britain vote. A vote against the status quo.” And with those votes coming “predominately from former Conservative voters,” UKIP’s popularity is effectively splitting the right.

Which means that Conservatives are left facing the very real possibility that Labour could beat them in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015. The prospect has left the Tories grappling with their own response to the Europe issue, with euroskeptic Conservatives urging the party down the same road as UKIP.

Euroskeptic parties are enjoying a boost across Europe, as the debt crisis rages. A 2012 TNS Opinion and Social poll for the European Commission found that throughout Europe only 31% of those polled trusted the EU. In Britain, trust is particularly low at only 16%. And as austerity bites, UKIP’s political messages have found new resonance. The party advocates not only for Britain’s exit from the EU, but also for severely restricting immigration.

“Lots of Conservative MPs on the right-wing of the party, who want a tougher policy on immigration and who want to be more anti-European, see the UKIP rise as a good way to convince the leadership to move in that direction,” says Wells, who also warns that such a move could also repel “the center voters they need to appeal to.”

Cameron argues against holding an “in or out” referendum and in a Jan. 6 BBC interview said that he wants to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe, not sever it. But as he seeks to pacify the euroskeptics in his own ranks and to battle the threat from UKIP, he has done little to articulate the dangers to Britain of leaving the E.U. His speech on Europe, which he is tipped to deliver in the Netherlands as early as next week, may seek to redress that balance as anxieties mount in Britain and among its allies. “Other countries are waking up to the fact that the conversations [about leaving the EU] are even taking place,” says Dr. Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House in London, adding that Britain hasn’t been cast in a favorable light because of it. On Jan. 9, the Obama administration warned that a British exit of the EU would run counter to American interests. “More than most others,” said assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip H. Gordon, “[Britain’s] voice within the European Union is essential and critical to the United States.”

But there’s another British voice that’s being heard increasingly loudly, and it makes a case for splendid isolation.  Farage is confident that the headway his party has made in the national political scene will have a lasting impact. “Five years from now, UKIP will have changed the face of British politics,” he told the Guardian. While five years down the road is hard for anyone to predict, at least one of Farage’s forecasts has already proven itself true.  UKIP has successfully changed the national debate – and maybe Europe’s political landscape.

27 comments
UK_Justice_Forum
UK_Justice_Forum

We conducted a POLL last week and the overwhelming number of respondents want the UK to exit Europe.  

Says it all really!



Ocsicnarf
Ocsicnarf

Perhaps it is better for Europe to get rid of UK, but I believe that will be poor business for Britons.  The EU cannot be summed up as paying for French farmers' pools.

jisco
jisco

No, but then do not use it the other way yourself

ChristofSchumann
ChristofSchumann

The whole idea of europe was to enslave the german people. Now that it turned vice versa, the ruling aristocracy, including the queen, and the other constitutional monarchies of BelgiumDenmarkLuxembourg NetherlandsNorwaySpainSweden, are appalled by the idea to play a minor role. As long as Germany played the paymaster for these toffs everything was fine, but now with the financial meltdown dragging on since 2008 and endangering their wealth, the gloves are off.

JosephMateus
JosephMateus

I say let them go. The rest of the European Union (EU) doesn't need Britain. They are nothing but a bunch of conceited arrogant pretentious presumptuous trouble makers who enjoy making like difficult for their other EU partners. They also STILL have a most abhorrent insidious pretense of a British Empire.

There is no way on earth that the rest of the EU should allow for such a member with distinct extra rights above all others. Britain should not be allowed to have its Queen Elizabeth II also as head of state of other independent nations outside the EU, especially the more important ones, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand and still be a full member of the EU. This smacks of outright British colonialism in the 21 century. This kind of subversive surreptitious colonialism disguised as "British Commonwealth"  is most anachronistic, perfidious and pernicious when you take into consideration that no other nation in the EU has its Head of State also as Head of State of other ex-colonies which are now fully independent nations outside the european continent.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Let's say we frame this issue as, "What's in the best interests of Great Britain (GB)?"

Currently, the situation is akin to GB being tied to the steadily-sinking Titanic that is the European Union.  No matter how strong a ship GB is (even in its days as the world's pre-eminent naval power), it will not be able to escape being 'pulled under' by the colossal weight of the EU.  GB and other creditor nations (i.e. Germany) cannot be held responsible for the mismanaged economies of other countries (i.e. Greece, Spain, Portugal).

So, is it in GB's best interests to be pulled down by the super-structure of the EU?  Common sense and conventional wisdom would seem to indicate, "no."

I would also like to note the indiscreet demagoguery at play, with David Cameron referring to UKIP as anti-immigration, anti-modern Europe, etc..  If you research the UKIP's party platforms, the party is not the "fringe" group which TIME Magazine claims.  

DavyCrockett
DavyCrockett

What Britain joined in 1973 was the EEC (European Economic Community), a loose grouping of six leading European countries, the primarily goal of which was to improve international competitiveness.  What Britain is in today is the EU (European Union), a collection of 27 diverse and in some cases backward countries which has both economic and political goals. Unfortunately, the goals of the EU are not only unrealistically ambitious, but the whole evolution of the project has been hopelessly mismanaged by people who are essentially incompetent for the job.  The only hope that something can be sacrificed from this terrible experiment is that the EU returns back to its EEC origins: in its present state it has no future. The British would be better off leaving the sinking ship; unfortunately, under the guidance of the dithering, hopeless current PM David Cameron this will take a long time.  It would therefore be better to elect Nigel Farrage of UKIP, whose other policies for the UK (eg, immigration) also make much more sense than those of the established parties.

KountyKobbler
KountyKobbler

Just as soon as the Britt's exit  the T party Sara Palin  will find a way to enter  and blame it on  anyone they can.. (and were not even  in Europe.)

jisco
jisco

Remember that famous title in a british newspaper: "fog on the Channel. Continent isolated"? The Uk should never have entered the EU because they do not feel european. They saved continental Europe twice, but they nevertheless see Europe as a foreign entity. All they are interested in is the Common Market. So, they better leave the EU rather than blocking it with their vetoes.

PapaFoote
PapaFoote

The Old Mountain Goat's "mind" is very straight about "Certain Things" - "SEPARATE" but "EQUAL" will "NOT WORK" for "OUR EARTH PLANET"!

"IT" won't work for any "NATION" either!

"ALL FOR ONE - ONE FOR ALL" IS THE ONLY WAY!

RaymondFinch
RaymondFinch

UKIP are not for isolationism. UKIP wish the UK to trade freely in a globalised marketplace.

As for the stance on immigration. The present situation, due to our being in the EU, is akin to the USA allowing unrestricted immigration from Mexico due to NAFTA. Is President Obama in favour of that?

jisco
jisco

@ChristofSchumann Odd to hear a german say that Europe wants to enslave the german people! Who enslaved other european peoples - Belgians (I was one of the slaves), Dutch among others - during two wars? Europe has been built to prevent that from happening again. Germany  may think that they are now the paymaster but they should not forget how much damage they caused and cost us. 

CeltDarnell
CeltDarnell

@JosephMateus Thank you, both for your bile and your demonstration of complete ignorance of British and Commonwealth history. You have simply provided reason number 5,785, 456 why we should get the hell out of the illiberal and anti-democratic European Union for once and all. 

Again, many thanks.  

Disco_House
Disco_House

@JosephMateus 

Well that comment by Joseph Mateus tells us all we needed to know about Continental Johnnies and their insecurities.

I hope to wake up in the morning and find fog across the English Channel and Europe cut off.

jisco
jisco

@DavyCrockett When I read you, it confirms me in the opinion that de Gaulle was right when he said that the six original members of the Common Market - that was the name of th EU at the time - should never accept the UK as a member.

Disco_House
Disco_House

@jisco

Britain's greatest Foe was a man who achieved what Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV and Napoleon all failed to do — who in fact makes their efforts look amateurish.

A man who successfully neutralised the one country that had always stubbornly resisted continental dictatorships. A man who helped unite all the Channel and North Sea ports under one state, historically Britain’s major fear.

A man who broke the close alliance between Britain and those Commonwealth countries whose troops had fought and died for the mother country only 30 years previously, by destroying their trade. Who destroyed Britain’s merchant navy. Who brought the island under the rule of foreign courts, and ended “a thousand years of history” by willingly surrendering Britain's sovereignty to an alien, undemocratic institution. A man who willingly lied and lied again to conceal the true intentions and aims of the foreign power he was working for, all the time saying it was “completely unjustified” that we would “sacrifice independence and sovereignty” by following his lead.

Step forward the Right Honourable Sir Edward Heath KG MBE. Washington, Rommel and Atatürk have nothing on him. 

As Cicero wrote: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within.”

CeltDarnell
CeltDarnell

@PapaFoote Are you proposing the US form a political merger with Latin America, or China, or India or Africa?

Belisarius86
Belisarius86

@jisco @ChristofSchumann 

Does this argument have an expiration date? Or do the other Europeans plan to keep using this to extract money from Germany forever?

JosephMateus
JosephMateus

Disco_House,

The fact that Queen Elizabeth II is the unelected head of the British Commonwealth, stays in such position for life and after she dies the position goes to her heirs only, shows that this is a post colonial nepotistic organization, in fact still is a "modern" colonial system in a surreptitious subversive insidious perfidious pernicious way. It is feudal, medieval and highly dictatorial. If in fact the Commonwealth was a truly benevolent benign democratic organization, then the position of head of the Commonwealth should be democratically open to any member nations and elected by one of all the member nations, and not for the exclusive reserved use of the Windsor family.

JosephMateus
JosephMateus

Disco_House, you have other members of the EU who also used to be colonial powers, namely Spain, France, Holland Portugal and Italy. However when all this countries lost their colonies and signed out, they all took their Head of State with them and the new independent countries all acquired their own local Head of State. Most unfortunately, this is not the case with Britain. Even as though Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all fully independent countries, no longer British colonies nor Dominions, Queen Elizabeth II continues being the absent Head of State in these nations. Now this is most incongruous, anachronistic, nepotistic and aberrant. In fact there are today British Commonwealth nations who have their own Head of State, like India, Nigeria, Kenya South Africa etc., and that is the way it should be. The rest such as Jamaica, Canada, Australia and New Zealand should also all be parliamentary republics with their own local Head of State, not the absentee foreigner Queen Elizabeth II that doesn't even live in these nations nor represent any of these nations.

JosephMateus
JosephMateus

Disco_House this is very simple. Either Britain removes Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State of Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the "British Commonwealth" drops the name "British" and becomes a democratic institution with an elected leader every four years or else just get the heck out of the European Union (EU) altogether. You want to have it both ways, but it doesn't work that way. Britain cannot have the cake and eat it too.

BigBob
BigBob

@famulla5

The federalists are to blame for most of the mess Europe is in. They saw the Euro as the means to take the next big step to a United States of Europe, a european nation state. In fact they were so desperate to achieve this that they ignored their own rules for joining the Euro and deliberately turned a blind eye to the obviously false accounts of countries that should never have joined the Euro.

Having forced this through without regard or concern for the consequences they now want to take the next step without regard or concern for the consequence. They simply refuse to accept the mistakes they made with the Euro and blame everyone except themselves.

The reality is like the sea and the tide is turning against the federalists, Sadly the federalists are a bit like King Canute. He could not turn back the tide and neither can they..


BigBob
BigBob

@JosephMateus  

The common wealth was established to promote trade and cultural exchanges between former british colonies that had transitioned to being independent nation states.  No one forced these countries to join, they did so because it was structured in a way that benefited all the members.  Canada, Australia , New Zealand and  a number of other commonwealth countries chose to retain the British monarch as a head of state. However the role is ceremonial. All of these countries are free to choose whom ever they want as their head of state. In fact it regularly comes up in political debate in Australia but to date they have chosen to retain the current position. If these countries choose to change the situation and become republics they are quite free to do so through their own democratically elected governments. Indeed they are quite free to withdraw from the commonwealth if they so choose.