Vidya Ram

Cameron pledges to remain in European Union

| | | Updated on: Feb 21, 2016
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June 23 referendum to decide UK’s future in the EU

The long anticipated British referendum on EU membership will take place on June 23.

The announcement over the weekend came after two days of intense negotiations over reforms to Britain’s relationship with the EU, that the country’s conservative government has been pushing for, concluded with a partial victory for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron, who had refused to acknowledge whether or not he would support remaining in the union until the negotiations on reforms were safely concluded, finally pledged to campaign to remain in, telling the public that Britain would be “safer, stronger and better off working” in a reformed EU.

“Let me be clear. Leaving Europe would threaten our economic and national security.”

Indian angle

His comments will offer some reassurance to the 700-odd Indian companies with their European headquarters in the UK. While many have been reluctant to speak out publicly in favour of remaining in, their hopes have tallied with much of Britain’s business community and other international businesses operating out of the UK, fearful of the impact that a Brexit would have on their access to the world’s largest trading bloc.

Their concerns were certainly reflected in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments during his UK visit last year when, asked about the referendum, he referred to Britain as a “gateway” to Europe.

Neck-and-neck race

However, Cameron’s endorsement is far from a guarantee: opinion polls have put the “leave” and “better in Europe” camps neck and neck, with one or two of the most recent putting a Brexit slightly ahead. A number of ministers, including the Justice Minister Michael Gove, and the Prime Minister’s Indian diaspora champion Priti Patel, have come out in favour of a Brexit and there is considerable speculation that Boris Johnson, London’s popular mayor, could come out in favour of leaving too.

While Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party has pledged to support remaining in, the Brexit has also received support from some on the Left.

The negotiations on the terms of Britain’s membership have relevance to India in a number of ways.

The agreement covered roughly three areas: immigration, limiting the extension of EU powers to Britain in the future, and protections for the City of London against EU regulations.

The first – a four-year restriction on the in-work benefits available to migrant workers from the EU for a seven-year period – has been a hotly contested topic that has shifted focus away from restrictions on non-EU migrants.

Whether the changes negotiated lead to a renewed focus on non-EU migration remains to be seen.

The other agreed terms include restrictions on the UK’s participation in future bailouts of EU member states, and steps to ensure that the City of London would not be discriminated against by the country’s ability to opt of out certain regulatory changes.

However, perhaps most significant is the wider message the negotiations have sent: Britain’s success at negotiating fairly significant changes has sent the message to other nations that the terms of membership are up for discussion.

In France, the right-of-centre National Front is pressing for a “Frexit” and public pressure for governments to be able to pick and choose EU policies they opt in for, could threaten the foundations and the stability the EU has been built on.

Published on January 20, 2018

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