by Allan F. Tatham, Professor at Facultad de Derecho, Universidad CEU San Pablo
New Deal for the UK in Europe: Rewarding British particularism or Making Exceptionalism Acceptable?
And so British Prime Minister David Cameron, standing outside No. 10 Downing Street last Saturday, announced to a waiting nation (and Union) that he had wrested for the United Kingdom almost all of the concessions he had been negotiating on with his EU Member State partners. What had once seemed as an almost Herculean task to achieve and an unprecedented one at that, has led to agreement with his fellow colleagues (no doubt grudgingly for some) in the European Council. Yes, Cameron was thus able to recommend to the British people on 20th February 2016 to accept the results of his “historic” renegotiation and vote for “Bremain” this summer; yes, the European Council has expressly recognized the constitutional and legal existence of a two- or multi-speed Europe[ii]; and, yes, the EU has accepted the existence – once again but in a much stronger version this time – of British particularism, in other words “in Europe but not of Europe” so to speak.
In the months leading up to the February European Council meeting, commentators canvassed the various options open to the UK were PM Cameron to have instead recommended a “Brexit” following negotiations and which might still happen if the popular vote in the 23rd June 2016 referendum were to show a majority in favour of leaving the EU.[iii] Among the possibilities considered have been: (1) UK membership of the European Economic Area (“EEA”) through reapplying for membership of the European Free Trade Association (“EFTA”) which would create the scenario of “back to the future” for the country as it was an original founding EFTA state in 1960, leaving to join the then European Economic Community in 1973; (2) a series of bilateral agreements between the UK and the EU, following Switzerland, each agreement being separately negotiated although the format is subject reconsideration by the EU; and (3) the Turkish model including a customs union, free movement of goods, and limited movement of workers as well as forming a strategic partnership in areas of mutual interest. Yet all three options would leave the UK woefully exposed internationally and in a very much weakened bargaining position outside the EU although probably still within the World Trade Organisation.