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Britain isn’t marginalised in EU

by Jack Schickler | 08.02.2016

The Leave campaign makes such a song and dance about how pro-Europeans are doing down Britain that it may seem odd that it is guilty of precisely that sin. Vote Leave and other eurosceptics repeatedly claim that the UK has little to no influence in the EU.

Whatever one thinks of David Cameron’s renegotiation – and one shouldn’t big it up – the evidence shows that the UK is not marginalised in Europe. It was the prime mover behind creating the EU’s single market, devising its competition policy and expanding the bloc to include former Warsaw Pact countries. It also does well in the deal-making that determines single market rules.

This hasn’t stopped Vote Leave making four claims that are factually wrong or misleading.

Claim 1: “We can only rely on 8% of votes in the Council of Ministers”

Misleading. The UK’s voting share in Council rose from 8.2% to 12.7% in 2014. As a transitional measure member states can still insist on using the old voting rules, but this only applies until April 2017.

Claim 2: The UK “can’t block EU laws”

Not true. The UK retains its veto in important areas like foreign policy, taxation, and the budget framework. In other areas, where qualified majority voting applies, the UK cannot on its own block laws. But it has the third largest voting power in the Council and is often able to work with other countries to change or stop proposals it doesn’t like. For example, the UK was instrumental in getting the EU last year to drop proposed maternity leave rules which it thought would be a burden on employers and taxpayers.

Claim 3: “Inside the EU we do not have control but are told what to do”

Misleading. While it is true that the UK has been outvoted in the Council more than any other country in the past six years, it was still on the winning side 87% of the time. What’s more, Britain is good at getting the right proposals on the table in the first place. Simon Hix at the London School of Economics crunched the numbers: comparing what each country wants to happen in a negotiation with what actually happens, the UK is the fourth most successful country in the EU; If you look at the issues the UK cares about most, it is the second most successful.

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Claim 4: “The UK is now being outvoted more and more frequently as the eurozone countries have started to use their in-built voting majority.”

The single currency’s members could theoretically outvote the others and force through a law that undermines the single market. So it is right that Cameron has secured some protection against such caucusing in his draft deal. But InFacts cannot find any evidence that this is happening, and Vote Leave did not provide any when asked to do so or respond to other queries. In a negotiation on (say) agriculture rules, coalitions are not determined by your currency, but by the matter in hand.

Britain, of course, doesn’t always get its way in Brussels. It couldn’t, for example, stop a misguided cap on bankers’ bonuses. But the best way to advance its interests is to get stuck in and fight its corner. The best way to be marginalised would be to quit.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

4 Responses to “Britain isn’t marginalised in EU”

  • At last some honest analysis about Britain’s position in Europe. However how can we get this through to the British public in time? I’ve got a doctorate in politics and it was based on analysing the EU’s economic system of governance (I know it’s boring but European Council summit dynamics are fascinating!) and adopted a very critical (analytically speaking) position but I hope to God (I’m not a religious person at all) we don’t leave. Are there any like-minded people like you in the North-west and the East Midlands that I can contact? (I’m saying this in my position as Regional Organiser for the European Movement in the East Midlands (co-opted) and secretary of the Greater Manchester European Movement branch)

    Kind regards and thanks
    Dr PJC Beeckmans

  • Why would ‘not being able to fight our corner’ matter to UK if we are not in the EU. We would make our own laws without having to vote on proposals by the EU commission/council.

    We can make our own trade deals, set our VAT lower if we so chose without having to ask the EU for a vote on it.

    We buy alot of goods from the EU do you really think they are going to stop doing business with us because we choose to leave. Just like Obama saying we would be at the back of the queue when it comes to trade with America if we leave the EU. Really? We purchase more products off America then 22 other EU countries combined. That was as good as threatening to sanction us if we leave.

    I’m excited for UK to leave so much opportunity without the restraints. We just need an honest PM

    • We already set VAT higher than the required minimum (and always have). There’s no suggestion that the government has any intention of bringing that down – if they wanted to, they already would have.

      The issue with trade has nothing to do with the EU “not wanting to do business with us” – it has to do with regulatory barriers. One of the key reasons the EU exists is to standardize trade regulations, which makes trading easier by reducing barriers (the “we can’t import that from you because it doesn’t meet our commercial regulations” type).

      If we leave the EU, those trade regulations will still exist and we will still have to conform to them in order for EU countries to be able to trade with us (since that’s how it works – if you want to sell in another country, you have to produce goods that can be legally sold in that country) – the difference is that we would no longer be involved in the production of those regulations.