More than three years have passed since the British decided on the exit of the country from the European Union and it is still uncertain when the exit will actually take place. It is even possible that it does not take place at the end. A look at the history of the Brexit helps to better understand the currently seemingly unrestrained political situation.
The Brexit vote, had a long lead. The referendum of 23. June 2016, was preceded by a political debate on the EU, which dates back to the nineties. In these years, the forces emerged that ultimately made it impossible for the Conservative government under David Cameron to ignore the demand for a Referendum.
The signing of the Lisbon Treaty by the British government was also crucial. The further restrictions on the sovereignty rights of the member states, which it entails, strengthened the supporters of resignation. This connection should be considered by the German left, because they were also once opponents of the Lisbon Treaty. Today, however, the party the left in its rejection of the Brexit is not to be distinguished from the other parties to the Bundestag.
An ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe
In view of the different, even contradictory motives of the exit supporters, are there a common, central issue? Among the demands of David Cameron for the negotiations with the EU in spring 2016, which were aimed at averting the Referendum on the EU at the last moment, was this: “It must be made binding that the contractual objective of an ever closer Union should no longer apply to the United Kingdom.”
It was a question of national sovereignty. “An ever closer Union of the peoples of Europe” has been the EU’s guiding principle since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. In doing so, it underscores its desire to achieve a political union in which the member states are largely rising. On the way to this, Maastricht replaced the previous European Community (EC) by the European Union (EU). To this end, a separate treaty on European Union (TEU) has been created, which regulates general, fundamental matters, in a similar way to the national constitutions.
With the setting of a Europe Day on 9 May, the understanding of the blue flag with the twelve golden stars in the circle and the European anthem, to which Beethoven’s Ode of joy was chosen, the right to a certain statehood should be underlined with the help of symbols. In addition, there was a European citizenship of its own. The Maastricht Treaty not only laid down the path to a single currency, the Euro, but also laid the foundations for a common internal and Legal Policy and for a European foreign and security policy.
For the United Kingdom, Conservative prime minister John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty. Unlike France and Denmark, there was no referendum on it in the United Kingdom. And yet, for Great Britain too, Maastricht should be the beginning of a new debate on the importance of national sovereignty, at the end of which the withdrawal is now taking place.
Since the dispute over the accession of the community in 1973, which could only be ended by means of a referendum, the criticism of European Integration has been largely dormant. However, the far-reaching provisions of Maastricht on a path to political Union aroused new resistance.
The most diverse groups of EU opponents met in the Congress for Democracy and the Referendum Party of billionaire James Goldsmith. In the lower house elections of 1997, this party received a good 800,000 votes and thus became the fourth most powerful party. However, due to the right to vote by majority, it succeeded in moving into the lower house.
Many were sceptical about the drafting of a constitution for the Union in the early 2000s. And so Tony Blair announced to have the people vote on the 2003 constitutional treaty. However, following its rejection in referendums in France and the Netherlands in the summer of 2005, this had lapsed. However, the Lisbon Treaty, which was presented two years later, was almost identical to the failed Constitution, which led to the demand for a referendum in Great Britain.
David Cameron, who was elected president of the Conservative Party in 2005, saw this as a good opportunity to put pressure on the Labour government as a leader of the opposition. Even before the Lisbon Treaty was fully negotiated, in September 2007, he gave the “iron guarantee” in an article in the newspaper Sun when Prime Minister had a referendum on the coming treaty.
Two years later, on November 4, 2009, Cameron took this “iron guarantee” back. What were the reasons for this? At the time the treaty was ratified in Great Britain, he was only a leader of the opposition and was therefore unable to block it. He could only hope that he would not yet be ratified should he become prime minister after the upcoming sub-House elections in May 2010. In a letter he had therefore asked the Czech president Václav Klaus to halt the ratification process in his country until May 2010. But Klaus continued on 3. He signed his signature under the instrument of ratification in Prague on 14 November 2009. The treaty was thus ratified in all then 27 member states and entered into force on 1 December 2009. Cameron had no choice but to take back his promise.
This withdrawal may have cost Cameron the majority in the elections in May 2010, but in order to become prime minister, he was therefore forced to enter a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, a party traditionally considered the most pro-European of the UK. His scope for European policy was therefore severely limited. In the face of this “betrayal” of their party leader, the resentment of many conservatives was great. They gathered in the Bruges Group, an association that strongly opposed the EU. The events surrounding the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty also played a part in Nigel Farage’S largely ignored UK Independence Party, which began to rise.
Promoting a referendum
After the conservative critics had not been able to prevent the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in Great Britain, they changed their strategy. They no longer relied on a fight against the EU policy of their own prime minister, they now sought the alliance with personalities outside their own camps, with trade unionists and Labour politicians. Unifying Band should no longer be the opposition to the EU.
In March 2011, the alliance “People’s Pledge” should be able to gather together all those who called for a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU, an “In-out poll”. The emphasis was on neutrality.
And so many who, while advocating further membership of their country, at the same time demanded a Referendum, in view of the loss of national sovereignty rights associated with the Lisbon Treaty, because they believe that only the people can decide on such existential issues.
“People not politicians should decide our future with the European Union” was the Slogan of the Grassroots movement, which understood itself as a non-partisan movement.
The aim was to persuade one of the two major parties in the country — conservative or Labour-to hold such a referendum on further membership. As things stand, only the Conservative party was an option but, because Labour had agreed at the latest since the term of office, Blair’s, on an unconditional Yes to the EU. The trade union, left-wing, Eurosceptic wing had long been marginalized.
In order to enforce their concerns, People’s Pledge began to organise votes in selected constituencies, with which the local members were to be obliged to support the call for a nationwide Referendum. The calculation was that, after the first successes, further members would readily agree to the demand, so as not to be forced to do so only by a majority in their own constituency.
Tactics started. Already during the first votes in some constituencies, participation was higher than in Lower House elections and significantly higher than in elections to the European Parliament. As a result, the pressure on the governing Conservatives became greater. After spectacular successes in Thurrock in Essex, as well as in Cheadle and Hazel Grove in southern Manchesters, Cameron spoke for the first time in September 2012 about the need for a new agreement (fresh settlement) with the EU and a new consensus with a view to the future UK membership of the EU.
In January 2013, he specified his plans in a speech at the Bloomberg agency and promised to hold a Referendum on membership in the same year in the event of his re-election in 2015. Shortly thereafter, the Liberal coalition partners gave up their opposition, and the Labour Party also stated that it would not defend itself against the holding of such a referendum after an electoral victory.
Cameron won the parliamentary elections of 7. May 2015. In the autumn of the year, the negotiations with the EU on the demands of the government according to the modified terms and conditions for the membership of the country began. In particular, as described above, it was a British Opt-out of the Union’s objectives but also of changes in the rules governing the free movement of workers. The influx of millions of workers from the Eastern European Member States has, in fact, led to an overload of the UK’s social infrastructure. British wage-earners have also been exposed to growing competitive pressure from cheap and willing labour from other EU countries.
The negotiations with the EU produced only meager results. The supporters of the” People’s Pledge " could not be dissuaded from their demand for a Referendum. Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to agree to holding such a referendum. The deadline for this was 23 June 2016.