There is widespread alarm that UK citizens have voted to leave the European Union. FT columnist Gideon Rachman predicts, however, that the exit may never happen. After all, the UK has never participated fully in the EU. It never adopted the euro, and never joined the Schengen passport-free zone. Can the nation “distance itself [further] from the hard core of the bloc, while keeping its access to the single market”? Mr Rachman thinks this is possible.
All good dramas involve the suspension of disbelief. So it was with Brexit. … [B]elatedly, I realised that I have seen this film before. I know how it ends. And it does not end with the UK leaving Europe.
Any long-term observer of the EU should be familiar with the shock referendum result. In 1992 the Danes voted to reject the Maastricht treaty. The Irish voted to reject both the Nice treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon treaty in 2008.
And what happened in each case? The EU rolled ever onwards. The Danes and the Irish were granted some concessions by their EU partners. They staged a second referendum. And the second time around they voted to accept the treaty. So why, knowing this history, should anyone believe that Britain’s referendum decision is definitive? ….
Like all good dramas, the Brexit story has been shocking, dramatic and upsetting. But its ending is not yet written.
Gideon Rachman, “I do not believe that Brexit will happen“, Financial Times, 28 June 2016.
In the case of the UK, the concession needed is on migration. Mr Rachman thinks that a second referendum would easily favour remaining in the EU if the UK were allowed “to limit the number of EU nationals moving to Britain if it has surged beyond a certain level”.
Despite Mr Rachman’s optimism, it is worth noting that no country so far has managed to gain access to the single market without accepting the principle of unrestrained, free migration. (See “Reality Check: Have Leave campaigners changed their minds?“, BBC News, accessed 27 June 2016, 14:25 PST.)
An estimated three million nationals of other EU countries currently live and work in the UK. More than a quarter of these migrants are Polish.