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Britain and Europe: in or out?
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“Euroscepticism is increasingly linked to the UK, do you think the country still has a place in the European Union?”

Response from Pauline Schnapper, Professor of British Studies, University Paris 3: “The United Kingdom does it still have a place in the European Union? This is a question which has been raised anew today, and for some months, and has not been asked so much since the beginning 1970s.

‘Because since the United Kingdom has been a member of the Community and of the European Union, that is to say, since 1973, successive governments had never considered – in any case not since 1975 and the referendum on remaining in the European Community – to leave the European Union.

‘But even if the United Kingdom, at various times, has been a difficult partner, stubborn, critical, especially during the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, the various British governments – be it Labour or Conservative – have never intended to leave the Union.

‘They wanted to defend what they perceived as their national interests within the EU and orientate it according to their interests, to push member states towards a British idea of Europe a liberal conception of free trade, de-regulation, etc., but they had never considered leaving.

‘So, what has changed today? Two things, I think.
The first is that the government in London which is mainly conservative and has been in power for two and a half years now, has become, I will not even say eurosceptic, but really anti-European.

‘And then the second recent factor is of course the crisis of the eurozone, apart from all its other aspects and consequences, it has had the effect in the United Kingdom to reinforce what many politicians thought already, that is to say that monetary union can not work without a political union and thus a European federation in which it is not a question for the British to participate.

‘So there is still quite a debate these days in the United Kingdom on whether or not they should stay in the EU. And this is new.

‘The government’s position is not quite on that wavelength, that is to say that the government does not want to officially leave the EU, but it wanted to do something that could, if it didn’t work lead to such a withdrawal, that is to say it wants to re-negotiate the terms of the British presence in the European Union and in particular, to re-negotiate a number of EU policies at a national level. Having done that it wants to hold a referendum in the UK to accept this new position of the United Kingdom in Europe.

‘The risk is that the European partners will not accept that and that Europe will show its divisions and with this failure a British government will by a referendum, decide to leave the European Union. This is an assumption that I would have immediately dismissed a few months ago, or in any case a few years ago, but now it can not be ruled out. “

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