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Analysis: Turbulence or triumph?

Video in which Anthony Salamone interviews Prof Michael Keating (Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh) on the history of the UK's EU relationship.
My name is Michael Keating. I’m a Professor at the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. I’m Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change, and currently I’m a Senior Fellow in The UK in a Changing Europe programme. So, Michael, to what extent has the UK been a leader in Europe? The UK has been a leader in Europe in a number of fields, notably in opening up the markets, liberalising markets. The UK was responsible for a large part of the Single Market programme from the 1980s. And British civil servants have been very influential in the Commission from the 1970s onwards. The curious thing is that the UK doesn’t boast about this. It tends to treat Europe as the enemy.
And they’ll go to the Council of Ministers, they’ll work on European dossiers, make a positive contribution, come back home and claim that they’ve defeated the plot to create a European superstate. And so that’s why people in this country don’t really understand what Europe is about or what the UK is doing there. The UK has opt-outs from a number of EU policies and it also has its rebate on the EU budget. Does this mean that the UK’s been successful in getting what it wants from the EU? It largely has. It’s out of the Schengen Area, for good or ill. It opted out of the euro. It opted out of a number of other provisions. There is the rebate.
Now there is the exemption from ever closer union, which means that the UK will effectively be able to opt out of future treaty changes. Prior to this referendum debate, one of the big moments in the UK’s history with the EU was when David Cameron vetoed the Fiscal Compact in 2011. How much of that was a victory for the UK? He didn’t really veto anything. He stopped the idea of the Fiscal Compact being a treaty binding on all 28 Member States. 26 of the others just went ahead without him. So, effectively, he opted out rather than vetoing that treaty. Have politics within the UK helped or hindered the UK in its relationships with the EU?
Well, they certainly haven’t helped, because the EU has always been portrayed as ‘the other’, ‘the foreigners’, ‘the people over there’, if not actually ‘the enemy’. And the European Union and the European project have never really been internalised in British politics. So if you go to other countries, whether they like Europe or not, or what it’s doing, it’s part of their domestic politics. It’s part of day-to-day life. To us, it’s always an example of foreign policy. And, so, there’s a lack of understanding of why it matters or how we’re part of the project. Views on the EU differ in the different parts of the UK. Does the question of EU membership have an impact on its constitutional settlement?
It certainly does, because the European question penetrates the UK constitutional debate in all kinds of ways. And the devolution settlement that we got at the end of the 1990s was within the framework of the European Union. Without the EU, it would have looked very differently. So, for example, we don’t have any UK policies on agriculture, fisheries, environment, a whole range of things, because they’re either devolved or they’re Europeanised. Take the European element away, and there’s something missing there. The politics is also very different, public opinion is very different. In Scotland, it has moved strongly towards staying in, at least as we talk, whereas in England it’s fairly well balanced.
So, there’s a good chance that Scotland could vote one way, England could vote another way. In Wales, opinion seems to be moving more close to England than it is in Scotland. Northern Ireland is divided between the two communities. The nationalist community tends to be very strongly in favour of Europe, the unionists divided. So, if there are different majorities in the different parts of the United Kingdom, this could really destabilise the constitutional settlement. The Scottish nationalists have said that, if Scotland votes to stay in and England wants to come out, and therefore the UK comes out, they might want to have another independence referendum, so that Scotland could stay in. It could happen the other way round.
England votes to come out by a narrow majority, and Scotland votes to stay in, so England is kept in against its will. Either way, we’ve got a constitutional crisis on our hands. And in Northern Ireland, the situation could be even more serious, because Europe is an important foundation for the peace agreement there, the power sharing between the two communities, which leaves the question of sovereignty unresolved, the open border with the Republic of Ireland. Since Ireland is going to stay in the European Union, no matter what happens, if Northern Ireland is outside, you’ve got a hard border there where you didn’t before.
Anthony Salamone and Michael Keating, Professor of Politics at the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh and Senior Fellow, The UK in a Changing Europe, discuss the history of the UK’s EU membership.
(Videographer: Tim Askew)
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