Why David Cameron’s large victory in UK elections will not pursue a ‘Brexit’

UK's Prime Minister, David Cameron, arriving at last EU Summit in April (Council TVnewsroom, 23/04/2015)

UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, arriving at last EU Summit in April (Council TVnewsroom, 23/04/2015)

Following the Conservatives’ victory at British general elections, less than two weeks ago, it’s time for some original analyses and a few considerations in the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron, who has pledged to renegotiate Britain’s ties with Europe and to give voters an in-out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017, won an utter majority in the Parliament, and thus UK-EU relations are now in the spotlight like never before.

Time for Brexit?

As we had anticipated ahead of the vote, markets were looking nervously towards the British elections and many key players of the world’s business were warning investors of the possible devastating effects of a “Brexit” on the EU’s and – especially – the UK’s economy. Nevertheless, what appeared so predictable only a few days ago doesn’t seem so obvious now. Of course the risks of a Brexit are looming over the cloudy skies of Westminster and Brussels, but some signals of an unexpected finale might be visible.

A “new settlement”

As reported by the Financial Times last Friday, Britain wants to reach a “new settlement” with the European Union “as fast as possible”, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said, echoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s call for the government to move with “appropriate speed” towards a reform. Being this a declaration from a man like Mr. Hammond, who is largely renowned for being a eurosceptic, it could sound like an alarm bell for the whole Brexit question. However the key point here is that Mr. Hammond promptly said that he believes a deal is possible without EU treaty change.

All about the “outcome”

Mr. Hammond, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Turkey, indeed made clear that change to the bloc’s founding treaties, was not, in itself, a political goal for his party, and so for the Conservative government. “I’m sure there are lots of people who will think it is all about the process, whether some protocol or article are better”, Mr. Hammond declared. “For the vast majority of the British people the important thing is where we end up, the outcome”, he added.

No mandatory treaty change

While commenting Prime Minister Cameron’s conclusion that some reforms would require changes to EU treaties, Mr. Hammond said: “It does not mean we need treaty change for the politics – the issue is how to protect the [measures] from legal challenge.” UK’s Foreign Secretary also said the timing of the renegotiation would depend “entirely on our partners”, the FT reported. “If they enthusiastically embrace the [reform] agenda, we would move as fast as possible,” he said.

“A loud voice in the Union”

“That is how I want this process to end up: a good package of reforms; a ‘yes’ vote; and a step change in the way the relationship works, with Britain being really engaged and a loud voice in the Union,” Mr. Hammond underlined. Hammond, who stated he wants the negotiation with the EU to be conducted “as fast as possible”, as we said, reportedly said he also aimed to support the campaign for keeping Britain in the EU, for the country to remain a “wholehearted participant” in the European project.

Signs of the times

This is quite of a big news: just a few days ago a Brexit seemed to be the logic consequence of a Tory victory at the elections, but all of a sudden a new truth comes to the light. Mr. Hammond’s words, being the UK’s Foreign Secretary, one of the leading figures of David Cameron’s government, are more than important. Could it be that a Brexit was never a real plan in Mr. Cameron’s mind, as well as in his allies’ ones, since the beginning? Let’s be clear: an in-out referendum is a promise that has been given to the British voters, but at the same time the UK leaving the EU – and so, formally, quitting the bloc itself – could really place the country in economic uncertainty for a quite some time. And everyone knows what would that implicated.

What does Cameron want?

Actually, the clear-cut Conservative’s win at the election could be read as a sign that a Brexit simply won’t come. The most dangerous situation of all was a no-ones’-victory, with large coalitions and a hung parliament to rule the country. The truly Eurosceptic party was Ukip, which got reshaped after the election. As the Guardian explained in a recent analysis,  Cameron’s view has always been that it is of existential importance that Britain remain in the EU. This explains also why both Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, from the Conservative wing, last autumn doubted their leader’s eurosceptic credentials and left the Conservative party to join Ukip.

A matter of political power

The Conservatives are still in government after May 7 and Prime Minister David Cameron had promised to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU and then give the people the right vote on whether to stay in or leave the EU. It might be though that the well-defined power of his party inside the parliament could eventually lead in a very politically-skilled Britain, which could be strong enough to try to deliver without a real “Brexit perspective”.

This, indeed, could be Cameron’s personal view. He will probably push to find a deal through a negotiation that does not involve treaty change that other EU member states would not approve by default.

This will be able to satisfy the needs of a reform without putting his country at risk: Possible?

Difficult to define it at this point, as critics argue that it would be nearly impossible to guarantee any meaningful reforms to Britain’s relationship with Brussels if the UK is to keep its full EU membership.

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