Even though most people's opinion about the European Union and our country's continued membership of it, are still probably largely informed by the highly emotive subject of mass migration, or the implicit threat of millions of British jobs being lost were we to ever contemplate leaving the club, in and of themselves these particular subjects are only ever employed to simply, what is after all, a very complicated matter.
Like a long marriage or relationship, the longer it goes on the more entangled both parties become with one another, to the extent that it is often easier to stay together, than it is to go through the bother of separating out what belongs to one party; and what belongs to the other. This is especially true when one considers the mutual relationships that Britain has built up with its European neighbours, in terms of trade, finance, migration, education, defence, transport, political representation, agriculture, employment, welfare, policing, judiciary, fishing and international affairs, all of which have become legally enmeshed over the course of the past forty years. The fact that it has taken four decades to integrate ourselves into Europe, should also be a clear indicator as to just how much time and trouble it would be, to fully and finally disentangle ourselves from the European Union, assuming of course that we could or would be bothered to do so.
Not a single one of us should be under any illusions though! Were the decision left to our three mainstream political parties, Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrats, the question of our continued membership of the EU would be moot, simply because all three leaderships are intrinsically wedded to our membership. Had it not been for his own sceptical backbenchers and the unexpected rise of UKIP in the national opinion polls; and regardless of previous promises that he had made to the country on the subject, David Cameron would not and probably will not choose to offer this country a referendum on Europe that he might potentially lose. Neither for that matter will Nick Clegg, or Ed Miliband, simply because in their own minds; and in their own opinions, that would be the wrong decision for our country; one that they're certainly not prepared to trust to a public vote, which they might very well lose.
But therein lies part of the problem with the European debate held thus far in Britain. With the Conservative leadership grudgingly forced to promise a referendum in 2017, assuming of course that they're re-elected in 2015; and with both Labour and the Lib Dems steadfastly refusing to discuss the issue under any circumstances, any properly informed debate has hardly yet begun. As a result, we've had Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem party trying to stifle any sort of public debate on the subject by quoting often highly questionable, if not completely fatuous figures about how many British jobs would be lost as the result of a UK withdrawal from the EU, which simply serves to frighten the electorate, rather than inform them. For their part, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Trade Union paymasters seem to have placed a party wide embargo on the subject of our continued European membership, not because they don't have a view on it, which is entirely pro-European, but presumably because by choosing to ignore the issue entirely, allows them to keep their electoral options open. However, no-one should be in any doubt, were we having a referendum campaign today, Mr Miliband and most of his Shadow Cabinet would almost certainly be strenuously campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union, regardless of any terms and conditions that that membership might impose on our country.
For myself, as a devout Eurosceptic I would like to see our country out of the European Union completely, but restoring our historic and traditional trading links with any and all countries that are willing and able to engage in reciprocal trade with us. Like many others, I do not dislike Europe or its various peoples, but neither do I consider myself a European. I regard myself as British, as old-fashioned and as out-of-step as that might appear to be; and as such take a personal pride in the histories, traditions and culture of our country that powered this generally insignificant crop of island's in the northernmost corner of Europe, from medieval backwater, to the centre of the greatest and largest Empire the world has seen thus far.
That magnificent history aside, one well understands that the world has moved on and that commerce and finance are now two of the levers of power that control the world's events, bringing into play the various trading and customs unions that the EU represents. However, such trade clubs are not in themselves a reason for individual sovereign states to simply surrender their historic independence to a remote and un-elected central committee, as we seem to be doing here in the UK. As each year passes, our elected parliament and the six hundred or so British representatives who sit there become less and less relevant to the way in which we live our lives on a day to day basis. Increasingly, it is the generally anonymous Members of the European Parliament (the MEP's) who are more involved with and important to just how the British people are ruled. The problem with that; and the existence of the European Parliament is that British lives are not only being run by British representatives that we, the British people, have actually voted for, but also by French, German, Belgian, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian MEP's, who have been elected by their own native populations, to look out for their national interests, not yours or mine.
Of course, if you happen to be a huge fan of the European Union and its various democratic offices, then you will see nothing wrong in that arrangement at all. However, given that every single one of our nationally elected governments, including those in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, etc are essentially redundant, having deferred most of their executive powers to Brussels, then surely the logical conclusion is that at some point in time they will be closed down; and what then? If such independent states are no longer deemed to be sovereign countries in their own rights, by virtue of having no national ruling government of their own, but are simply represented in Brussels by a specific number of regional MEP's, who can easily be outvoted by their political opponents, then what sort of future for Britain then? Clearly, the likes of Mr Cameron, Clegg and Miliband must be in favour of such political developments, simply because they see Britain's place within the European Union, with its ever closer union, even though it would seem that they're essentially voting for their own political extinction in a sense!
The truth of the matter is that no-one knows what would happen if or when Britain chose to leave the European Union, British politicians don't know, European governments don't know and EU delegates don't know! Nobody knows simply because it hasn't happened before! A lot of people, including economists, politicians, diplomats, newspaper editors and even world leaders have all speculated about a possible British exit from the European Union, but even they don't know what the outcome would be, other than of course from their own guesswork. Some of these so-called informed seers, including Mr Clegg have tried to frighten the life out of voters by suggesting that up the three million British jobs could be lost, even though he forgot to mention that these three million workers also produce goods for other non-EU customers, so in fact probably wouldn't lose their jobs after all. He also forgot to mention that his assumptions were entirely based on Britain and the EU not trading with one another after a British withdrawal, which clearly is a nonsense.
According to Tim Oliver in his excellent appraisal "Europe Without Britain", the UK as it stands accounts for 12.5% of the EU's total population; and some 14.9% of the Union's entire economy. Despite its recent difficulties the UK economy is still the 6th largest in the world and around 20% of all European Union exports come to British consumers, with an estimated four million European jobs relying on this business. In 2011 alone Britain ran a trade deficit with the EU of £28 billion, underpinning the importance of the UK as one of the EU's primary marketplaces. In the same year, 2011, the UK contributions to the EU budget amounted to five billion Euros; and had it not been for the UK's annual rebate, Britain's total contribution would have been 8.3 billion Euros, greater even than Germany's budget payments. It is clear therefore that rather than Britain having anything to fear from a withdrawal, the biggest losers from such an eventuality; and certainly from any sort of diplomatic fallout resulting from that action would be the European Union itself.
The reality of course is that no-one will fall out with one another! People deal with people all of the time, the same as companies deal with companies, countries deal with countries; and so it will remain if and when the UK withdraws from the EU. As one of Europe's leading nuclear and military powers, for anyone to suggest that Britain will descend into an anonymous backwater, just because we've resigned our club membership is a complete absurdity. Even as the most awkward member of the European Union, Britain remains a lynchpin of Europe's defence; and our country's trade and diplomatic networks, built over decades, is second to none, so the very idea that this country would be in any way isolated is a wholly fatuous suggestion, especially as it comes from our own supposedly homebred politicians.
The old adage of there being "nothing to fear but fear itself" is probably highly appropriate given the sorts of debates that we can expect to have in the coming months regarding the EU and our continuing membership of the group. The likes of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, along with their Euro-fanatic allies in the media and in business will no doubt try and raise all sorts of fears and doubts in people's minds regarding a possible British withdrawal, much the same as they did in the 1970's, the last time we were offered a say on the matter. As with any divorce however, be it marital or political, things are always likely to get messy, but no more so than if two squabbling partners remain together for entirely the wrong reasons. Nobody wins in that situation; although it tends to be the case that both parties end up being equally miserable with one another, so that there are no winners, only losers.