Britain and the European Union, belatedly

I was asked for a prediction on who would win such a referendum.  I predicted that it would never take place.  The referendum is scheduled for after the next Parliamentary election.  Labour has led in the polls for 22 of the last 24 months, and the current snapshot has C32/L41/LD11 for a 96 seat Labour majority.  Obviously these numbers are not solidly predictive of what would happen in the Spring of 2015, but the Conservatives have a lot of ground to make up if they are to win the outright majority necessary for triggering this referendum.  Achieving this majority is even less likely seeing as how boundary changes for Westminster constituencies are almost certainly not going to be enacted prior to the next election.  The map changes have been largely estimated to help the Conservative cause.

So what’s this all about, then?  I agree with Simon Usherwood, writing over at the LSE blog, that this is a largely political exercise; “As such, it is not going to satisfy most people, since it looks a bit too much like what it is: a fudge and can-kicking.”

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54 comments on this post.
  1. J. Otto Pohl:

    I am pretty sure that the UK is not going to leave the EU. The UK is too small to have any real global power on its own so it has to be in some sort of supra-national organization. The Commonwealth was at one time an option, but its domination by non-white Asian and African countries made certain ties undesirable. In particular the ability of non-white people to move to the UK was a problem for most British including the “progressive” Labour Party. Now they have eliminated the Commonwealth line at Heathrow and there is only a mostly white EU line and another line I stand in with all the other people from Africa. An Atlantic alliance focusing on the US and NATO leaves the UK in a permanent secondary position rather than a leadership position. That leaves only the EU regardless of how annoying the French are.

  2. Dave:

    If and when the Labour Party is returned to power, you’ll be hard-pressed to put a cigarette-paper between the main lines of their social and economic policies and those of the Tories. They’ll just lie about them more, and divert resources in some different directions to shore up their political fiefdoms.

    For 12 of the 13 years of the last Labour govt, the top rate of income tax was 5% lower than it is right now. The shitty direction the country is heading in now is about 80% the responsibility of the Labour Party, which is still doing an appallingly bad job of either facing up to that, or suggesting any kind of constructive economic policy for the future. And by ‘economic policy’, I mean something other than ‘borrow some more, lift people out of a kind of “poverty” that is just a statistical joke, and try not to think too hard about the actual state of the world economy, or the environment, or anything else which might matter in a longer time-frame than the next election cycle.’

    Against the fact that the whole UK political system is stuck in denial of our final, terminal, post-imperial decline to a third-rate, over-populated, under-resourced country, Tory ravings about Europe are little more than comic relief. Which we all need, but still it doesn’t help.

    Yes, thanks, that does feel better.

  3. Manta:

    Can you link to a transcript of the interview? Or even better elaborate on

    “The second question area was whether or not Britain should take the advice of the United States. My response was an unequivocal yes”

  4. Eli Rabett:

    So Dave, what happens when Scotland votes to leave the UK?

  5. Dave:

    Well, approval for that option was running at 23% in the last poll I saw, so I’m happy to wait & see. OTOH, if it did happen, we’d be 2 fourth-rate post-imperial declining states, instead of 1 third-rate one…

  6. J. Otto Pohl:

    I don’t know I am pretty sure that the standard of living in the UK is much higher than in most of Africa or even the US. Now there is no moral reason why Englishmen and Scotsmen should be wealthy while people in Africa are poor so I am all for confiscating ill gotten British wealth stolen through colonial and neo-colonial policies and redistributing it. But, Europeans including the British really do live very cushy lives compared to most of the world. Forcing pampered Englishmen to live a few years in Nima might permanently end a lot of wingeinng and make them grateful that they do have council flats, running water, electricity, NHS, the Tube, and a lot of other things most countries can not afford. Many of them can not afford these things in part because of British past and even current policies. The IFIs only seem to demand that African states introduce fees for health and education while it remains free to Europeans.

  7. J R in W. Va.:

    But if the British have already had a referendum on the EU membership, what justification is there for another one 3 decades further on?

    This is somewhat like South Carolina voting to accept the US Constitution and then changing their minds 80 years later by firing on Fort Sumter, isn’t it?

    Once you’ve joined an international group for some sort of common good, how many times should you be able to revisit that decision with another election?

    Is it possible for me to make a simple statement instead of asking questions? No!

    The UK would still be a member of NATO, and retain their SSBNs, so I can’t quite see them being a 4th rate non-power. I’m having a heck of a hard time typing on this laptop, so I’m going to stop now, after being reduced to 3 finger pecking to avoid touching the touch-pad and moving the focus to the wrong place for the letters I’m typing… have a nice weekend, all.

  8. elm:

    So, because your grandparents decided to do something, you are forced to keep doing it?

    Any country can leave the EU of their own free will. (It’s codified in the Treaty of Lisbon, Article 50.) If people choose to leave to leave through their own democratic process, they should be allowed to.

    This is somewhat different from South Carolina example in two ways: 1, the US is a federation with final authority resting at the national level such that individual states do not have the right to unilaterally secede rather than the EU which remains more of a confederal setup; and, 2, Britain isn’t going to fire on EU military bases on their way out the door (I think.)

  9. DocAmazing:

    So we in the US are not the only ones…

  10. DocAmazing:

    So, because your grandparents decided to do something, you are forced to keep doing it?

    That was Lysander Spooner’s argument:

  11. PSP:

    Except the Tory eurosceptics want to leave the Union, get rid of EU regulations, stop paying taxes, stop letting in Eastern European job seeking migrants, but keep access to the common market. Since NATO is separate, the alliance stays in place too.

    At least South Carolina wasn’t trying to keep all the benefits of the union, when they decided on treason in defense of slavery.

  12. elm:

    Britain may want that, but they won’t get it. They have a right to vote to leave. (Actually, they don’t even need a referendum. If a majority in parliament votes to leave, they can leave. Article 50 says “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”)

    They have a right to tell the EU, “We will have this vote unless you give us all of the following the things.”

    The EU has the right to tell them to piss off. As Dave notes, that’s exactly what will happen if they try to negotiate again. (Actually, I think the EU will give them some fig leaf they can take to their citizens to say, ‘hey look, we won something!’ assuming a vote ever happens which, like Dave, I don’t think will happen.)

  13. elm:

    I said that the U.S. case is different given our federal system. So, Spooner is wrong in the particular case he uses.

    But I do think that people have a right to choose things democratically for themselves and that right doesn’t disappear because their ancestors made a different democratic choice. Obviously, you have to pursue the lawful procedures to make such a choice, which the UK would be doing in this case and S. Carolina did not in the 19th century.

    But, let’s say Puerto Rico becomes a state in the near future (and that issue seems to have dropped right off the radar screen after the election.) Does that mean 100 years from now, Puerto Ricans who had not been alive for that vote will be bound by it permanently even if the tea party somehow manages to grow in power and then pass ever more disciminatory laws again Latinos?

  14. joe from Lowell:

    First, why is the US offering such advice? I pointed out that official diplomatic meddling in domestic affairs is rare, but Gordon had explicitly answered this question: “this is in America’s interests” for the UK to remain a key member of the EU. I elaborated by suggesting that the US can use the British as a back door to influence EU policy by proxy.

    This is so short-sighted. A politically-unified Europe is in America’s interests because a politically divided Europe tends to result in wars that kills hundreds of thousands of Americans. Our interest in the project of European integration is exactly the same as it was in the 1950s.

    “But joe,” you might say, “Great Britain leaving the EU doesn’t mean that France and Germany are going to go to war next week,” and that’s true – but once the first blow to roll back integration begins, it makes the next step easier, and then the next.

  15. Dave:

    It was also Thomas Paine’s, but the circumstances changed somewhat between the late eighteenth and the mid nineteenth centuries…

  16. sibusisodan:

    Just so. And as a younger person, born in the 80s, it’s taken me quite some time to see how deep the roots of ‘let’s not have another Massive War, eh?’ are in the formation of the European Union, and antecedents.

    Europe may not know what it wants to become, with the EU, but it generally knows what it wants to get away from…

    And the Tories confuse me on this issue. Historically, we’ve regretted it almost every time we’ve failed to join in with the European project. Perhaps joining the Euro is the single exception to that – but happy to be corrected by more knowledgeable folk.

    Euroscepticism has had a back track record in the UK, yet it’s still perenially a problem. Odd.

  17. PSP:

    I don’t disagree. The Tory party’s nut cases are different than our wingnuts, but just as nuts.

  18. Eli Rabett:

    Of course, the Alex Salmond is working with Rick Scott to perfect the Sasanach surpression campaign eliminating the voting rights of the 77%

  19. Pestilence:

    Actually nuttier I think, but considerably less adept at stirring up popular support (or barefaced lying, as I like to call it)

  20. Anonymous:


  21. Xenos:

    With the dramatic consolidation of banking supervision powers into the the European Central Bank, I would think The City is desperate to have as much distance between themselves and Brussels and Frankfurt as possible.

  22. Dave:

    For some people a) nationalism trumps everything; b) continental Europe is what British national identity is defined against; c) the EU is a fount of everything they despise about nanny-state interventionism, and conspicuously doesn’t seem to have British best interests at heart in applying that.

    Whether or not any components of that worldview are objectively accurate or conducive to economic prosperity is quite irrelevant.

  23. chris y:

    Couldn’t agree more, old chap.

  24. Bijan Parsia:

    In particular the ability of non-white people to move to the UK was a problem for most British including the “progressive” Labour Party.

    While not implausible, you’re so unreliable that I’d like to see some hard data.

    One thing is very true: The current government is orders of magnitude worse on immigration that the prior government. Perhaps as early as next semester we will have to fingerprint scan our students once a week (or otherwise physically confirm their presence). *Maddness*.

    Now they have eliminated the Commonwealth line at Heathrow and there is only a mostly white EU line and another line I stand in with all the other people from Africa.

    What little I could find suggest this was older.

  25. Bijan Parsia:

    The Civil War says “yes”.

  26. Bijan Parsia:

    The recent national survey has mixed messages.

  27. ptl:

    While not implausible, you’re so unreliable that I’d like to see some hard data.

    Well, hard data or no, the Commonwealth Immigration Acts of the 1960s were aimed at black people. “Commonwealth” was code. Labour’s given in — and still does; NB, Labour first raised overseas student fees.

  28. Bijan Parsia:

    Yes, I agree with that. But I thought we were talking more recently. (And there’s a difference between labour courting a racist anti-immigration block and most labour *voters* being racist/anti-immigration. I don’t know what the breakdown is like, hence the asking.

    Labour (foolished) instigating domestic student fees too. What I don’t think they did, afaik, is all the crazy visa restrictions, constrictions, and harassment that the Conservatives have done. Cameron is trying to get net inward migration down to 10,000/year…that’s a lot.

    Changing student visas to not allow the post graduation work year makes the fees ever more indefensible.

  29. elm:

    Will should have been “should” in that question. To my mind, what made, to use Scott’s term for the Civil War, “treason in defense of slavery” objectionable was the “defense of slavery” part, not the “treason” part. If, in my hypothetical example, Puerto Ricans became an oppressed group after voting for statehood, they should have the right to vote again to leave.

  30. J. Otto Pohl:

    Everybody in the world except the people at LGM agree that the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1960 had racial motives. Bijan Parisa will disagree with anything I write and claim I am an idiot no matter what. If I say the sky is blue he will disagree and say I have no idea what I am talking about. But, you can just ignore him.

  31. rea:

    The Untied States is older then the Constitution. And the Articles of Confederation specified that the Union was to be perpetual.

  32. Hogan:


    Well, hard data or no, the Commonwealth Immigration Acts of the 1960s were aimed at black people.

    Bijan Parsia:

    Yes, I agree with that.

    J. Otto Pohl:

    Everybody in the world except the people at LGM agree that the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1960 had racial motives. Bijan Parisa will disagree with anything I write and claim I am an idiot no matter what.

    Some people just won’t take yes for an answer.

  33. ptl:

    But I thought we were talking more recently.

    J. Otto Pohl seemed to me to be talking about the years when (as I recall it) the Commonwealth was mooted as an alternative to joining the EU.

    (And there’s a difference between labour courting a racist anti-immigration block and most labour *voters* being racist/anti-immigration.

    Again going back to those years, I’d argue firstly that it was the intensity of feeling that counted, second though that it was certainly possible that most voters of both parties held views that could reasonably be described as racist/anti-immigrant.

    (I do know about Cameron’s plans — actually I’d say his higher education policies as a whole are both foolish and nefarious, and of course his immigration policies are too — but for me, “better than Tory” is still dire.)

  34. Bijan Parsia:

    If it gets bad enough, then we’re talking revolution a la the American revolution. But I don’t see the inherent problem with having a political unit which is irrevocable.

    Part of the problem with cherry picking either the best or the worst cases is that there are lots of other cases. What makes Puerto Rico special per se? If after statehood 90% of the current Puerto Ricans move to the US and a good chunk of Iowa moves to Puerto Rico, to the descendants of the Iowa Ricans have there right to vote for the succession of Puerto Rico?

    You certainly can have a right of succession for certain units (see the Eu or see Canada), but it’s often not a good idea.

  35. J. Otto Pohl:

    Yes, I was talking about the Commonwealth being at one time considered as an alternative to the EU for the UK. One that failed in part because of opposition to increased immigration from African and Asian members by all major political parties in the UK. I had no idea this was controversial.

  36. Bijan Parsia:

    Yes Otto, I’m sorry that your reading skills are degenerating so rapidly. Though I guess it is in parallel to your writing skills. Please note that I read:

    Now they have eliminated the Commonwealth line at Heathrow and there is only a mostly white EU line and another line I stand in with all the other people from Africa.

    Forgive me if I read this as claiming that the elimination of the Commonwealth line was a recent phenomenon, i.e., in the last labour government, rather than one in the 1960s. I would have thought that such a notably careful historian as yourself would acknowledge that racial attitudes might be different in different time periods. My experience having lived in the UK since 2006 is that the current Government is significantly worse on immigration in ways that are truly startling. We’re hitting the point where universities are an enforcement wing of the Home office. This is the current state.

    Now, I’m not particularly familiar with British history of the 1960s and 1970s, but a cursory look around reveals that the culpability you so liberally bestow on both parties is by no means properly equally proportioned. Yes, Labour indefensibly caved with “Immigration from the Commonwealth”. But their motivations seem, at best, more mixed:

    On one hand, Wilson’s government toughened immigration controls and conditions of entry, on the other hand, it also developed the race relations policy dealing with the immigrants already settled in Britain, namely with discrimination against them. In 1965 the first Race Relations Act was introduced to prevent racial discrimination and encourage racial harmony. It made racial discrimination on the ‘grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins’ and incitement to racial hatred in public places illegal and covered both British citizens as well as overseas visitors. The Act also established the Race Relations Board which was supposed to deal with complaints. However, some anti-racist groups and Labour backbenchers claimed that the new law was not tough enough, as it did not cover housing or employment. The law applied only to the ‘places of public resort’ which included hotels and restaurants, but excluded private boarding houses and even shops (“1965: New UK Race Law”). Despite the primary proposal, racial discrimination was not made criminal offence but only a civil offence (ibid.).

    So the story is at least somewhat more complicated that it seems. (I say this without, in any way, endorsing or excusing the behavior of Labour at the time or of Johnson’s foreign policy or Obama’s Mali policy.)

    But this is part and parcel of your systematic unreliability or, rather, reliable wrongness. Your reflexive move is not to correct your error or to clarify your point but to launch a broadside against LGM as a whole which is refuted by the comment you are responding to as well as my own.

  37. Bijan Parsia:

    Dude, it’s not at all controversial that the immigration restrictions of the 1960s and 1970s were driven by racist public sentiment whipped up by the Conservatives and adopted by Labour when they were in power in a sad capitulation.

    I don’t know much about Commenwealth history and though, because of your insertion of yourself into the conversation, that you were talking about more recent things. Hence my asking for clarification. Which, apparently, is rather offensive to you. Touchy!

  38. Bijan Parsia:

    ptl, yeah, I just read that one opinion poll had approval of stronger immigration controls at 70% at that time. I’d welcome a good, comprehensive source on this. One thing that seems tricky is that Labour started out rightly apposing this crap as racist, but then tried to sanitize it (with, perhaps a bit of mitigation) while still getting the benefit of pandering to racist sentiments. To be fair, there does seem to be a strong block of the elite who were systematically against it.

    And Labour seems to have acknowledged it’s failure. From the Master’s thesis:

    In 2002, 34 years on, the Home Secretary David Blunkett retrieved ‘a historic wrong’ which had left tens of thousands of Asians stateless by giving them the opportunity to take up full British citizenship (“Blunkett Ends Passports”). He also said that “overseas British citizen status is a legacy of decolonisation, when some overseas citizens were treated unfairly, which was then compounded by the 1968 Immigration Act and the 1981 Nationality Act. The Government is acting to put right those wrongs. We have a moral obligation to these people going back a long way” (ibid.).

  39. J. Otto Pohl:

    It was obvious from the context what I was talking about. You have very poor reading comprehension skills obviously.

  40. J. Otto Pohl:

    I said including Labor. Which does not exclude the Tories. You seem to be the one with a problem reading English. The policy of opting to go with the EU rather than the Commonwealth was established in the 1960s, but it was never repealed. The restrictive immigration policies against former colonies also were never repealed by any Labour government which was my point. You seem to have missed it completely in your desire to condemn the Tories who I never defended.

  41. Bijan Parsia:

    I said including Labor. Which does not exclude the Tories.

    Who said otherwise. Your original passage certainly suggest that there’s no particular daylight between them:

    In particular the ability of non-white people to move to the UK was a problem for most British including the “progressive” Labour Party.

    Of course, this is confused and confusing in several ways. From what I can tell, the Labour party was preferentially against crapping up Commonwealth immigration on the grounds that it was racist, but when they took power, they kept the Conservative laws because of fear of public pressure:

    The Labour Government won the elections in late 1964 with a tiny majority and was vulnerable to populist pressures exerted by a handful of right-wing Midlanders. One sign of the atmosphere of bitterness was the election of the Conservative Peter Griffiths in Smethwick. Griffiths had run a campaign under the slogan: ‘if you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour’ and on his entry to the House of Commons he was denounced by Prime Minister Harold Wilson as a ‘Parliamentary leper’. The Conservative party backed a new Bill by the Midlands MP, Sir Cyril Osborne, which set out to deny entry to all migrants from the Commonwealth, except for those with parents and grandparents born in Britain. The Bill was thrown out in March 1965, but only a few months later, the Labour Government introduced a White Paper modifying the 1962 Act, which went some way towards mollifying Sir Cyril and his supporters.

    (I’m not super confident in these sources, though I’ve seen the campaign slogan a bunch of times.)

    Here’s the thing Otto: I misunderstood your original comment. I asked for clarification. Upon getting it from ptl, I agreed to the historical points, simpliciter. So, it would be a good move on your part to stop saying that I’ve not done that.

    I am now arguing that you put a slightly odd spin on it, mostly by omission. If you would care to continue productively, that would be great! I am, in fact, very interested in this topic and how it relates to the current immigration debacle in the UK.

  42. Bijan Parsia:

    Your “now” argues otherwise.

    But let me grant that the misunderstanding was entirely my fault. ptl clarified it and I was educated. Then you started on about how I didn’t agree and that LGM (including ptl?!) didn’t agree that the various immigration acts were racist.

    Don’t you think this is pretty off base?

  43. ptl:

    I haven’t a source (as yet) for my “possible.. most voters” comment, just a hunch based on memories; and anyway stand by my point about intensity of feeling (applause for Rivers of Blood speech, dockers marching in support of Powell,and so on). I can have a look.

    To be fair, there does seem to be a strong block of the elite who were systematically against it.

    I agree.

    I’ve skimmed the thesis you cite. I decided to check the point about the 1968 Act, I found this

    I don’t really see Blunkett’s acknowledgement as adequate.

  44. Bijan Parsia:

    Well, I did see a 70% approval for tightened immigration back then. I think it was in the thesis. So I’m pretty convinced.

    Callaghan certainly was awful.

    Re: Blunkett, dunno, yet. Still trying to find out more. Some acknowledgement and restitution is better than none.

  45. Bijan Parsia:

    Here it is:

    Again, the war on immigration was declared by some media, which influenced public opinion immensely. Before the Act was passed, 70 per cent of Britons voted for further controls in
    public opinion polls (Hampshire 35). As Randal Hansen later commented on the Act, it was “loathed by liberal opinion and loved by public” (Hampshire 37).

    That seems to be from Hampshire, James. Citizenship and Belonging: Immigration and the Politics of Demographic
    Governance in Postwar Britain, which looks interesting.

  46. ptl:

    On the broader question of whether supporting EU entry indicates racism, I’d say in the case of political leaders and party activists it’s more complicated than that; but what I need to argue a case is trapped behind JSTOR walls. Still for what it’s worth, and insofar as I can tell, the Tory Cabinet members urged that Enoch Powell be sacked were pro-Common Market. It was public opinion in general, aided and abetted by the tabloid press, that I had in mind.

  47. Bijan Parsia:

    There definitely seem to be some not-horrible conservatives in the mix.

    What’s the JSTORed paper?

    Btw, thanks for the comments! They are helping me get clear about this bit of history.

  48. ptl:

    Here it is:

    Thank you. But the 70% at that stage doesn’t surprise me. I seem to have managed to blot out my memories of the extent of the “panic and prejudice” whipped up by the media, but documentaries I’ve seen since make it clear.

  49. ptl:

    The threading thing here won’t let me reply directly — sorry

    There definitely seem to be some not-horrible conservatives in the mix.

    Oh yes. Some OK Ye Olde One Nation liberal Tories.

    Unfortunately I didn’t note the JStored paper as a storm here distracted me.

    Thanks for your thanks. I’m not entirely happy about the effect of my irruption here, but it was meant to be helpful!

  50. Bijan Parsia:

    Yeah, there seems to have been a bit of a moral panic to it all.

  51. Bijan Parsia:

    No worries. The trick is to reply to the parent once the nesting gets too deep :)

    But really, your intervention helped me find some stuff out I’m glad to know more about.

  52. Dave Brockington:

    There’s no transcript of the interview. Indeed, they only stay on line for a week, so there’s not even that (however, if you act fast, you might still find my inauguration day interview on line, but that interview was a bit crap). As for an elaboration on the second question, suffice it to say that the benefits (considerably) outweigh the costs of membership, especially in light of the various and sundry opt-outs and deals that Britain has. Maybe I’ll write about that here some day, but not today, given the constraints on my time today / this week all I can dedicate to LGM is a throw-away post.

  53. ptl:

    (the Tory Shadow Cabinet members who urged…)

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