The Great British Brexit
Published: 10th Aug 2012 09:20:37
A boost to national confidence is likely to be one result of the London Olympics. Big enough to influence Britain's place in Europe?
We don't know yet, of course, or how long the reflected glory from the gods of Mount Olympus will reflect on politics and the economy at the other end of Europe.
But as the Olympics head to the close, the possibility of a British exit from the European Union - or a 'Brexit' - is getting a serious airing in London financial circles.
A senior analyst with Nomura, Alastair Newton, chose the day before the 60th anniversary of the creation of the European Union's forerunner - the European Coal and Steel Community - to set out an assessment (and one with a rare lack of bias) of where Britain stands as the European Union stumbles on with its continent-sized crisis.
Or indeed, if it doesn't stand, perhaps Britain walks away.
Much of this is an assessment of the state of play within the Westminster coalition, and in particular, David Cameron's relationship with his eurosceptic backbenchers.
For those in Scotland, where there are no Tory backbench MPs, eurosceptic or otherwise, this debate can feel rather distant.
But what Mr Newton underlines is that the Prime Minister's position is being greatly weakened by the rising confidence of dissident backbenchers.
They've shown their muscle in forcing the Government to abandon Lords reform.
But the one issue that really motivates them is Europe.
And even among those Conservatives who care less about the issue, lots of them care about the electoral implications of the UK Independence Party exploiting the coalition's weakness.
A date to put in the diary is the next nation-wide test of political opinion, in June 2014, when UKIP will hope to increase the strong showing it got at the last European Parliament elections.
For those whose focus is on the Scottish independence referendum expected only four months later, the Strasbourg result could be rather significant in determining the capacity of the UK Government to fight a campaign for the UK union.
Much of its focus could be on the campaigns to stay in or out of another political union, across the English Channel.
"The immediate question:" says Mr Newton. "Can the Cameron Government rein in the eurosceptic rebels or are we now heading inexorably towards a defining moment in the UK's relationship with the EU?"
He offers a dispassionate analysis of the UK Government's negotiating strength in shaping Brussels future, noting that events within the eurozone will dictate the pace more than Britain can: very slow for now, but possibly very much faster before long.
And he suggests there is "a non-negligible probability" (you have to love analyst-speak) that yet more euro-crisis will encourage Tory eurosceptics to exert yet more pressure on David Cameron.
This analysis points to the tensions within Britain's position, of wanting the eurozone to enter much deeper integration, while wishing to have nothing to do with it.
The result will probably include the UK being out of the room where the single market is developed further.
It's summed up in a brutal quote from Philip Whyte of the Centre for European Reform: "Three views of the UK are now common across Europe: that it is unreliable and unconstructive; that it is an active distraction from solving the region's worst crisis since World War Two; and that it appears to be heading for the EU's exit door".
In the last few months, we've moved rapidly to the possibility of a referendum after the next Westminster election, not necessarily because the Tories demand it, but because their opponents could do so first, forcing the Conservative leadership to respond.
But it need not mean a complete break from the EU.
Newton suggests a shift along a spectrum of engagement with the EU, which could put the UK much closer to the position of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, within the European Economic Area.
This is of course largely about politics, and above all the internal politics of the Conservative Party.
But the Japanese investment bank hasn't put one of its top analysts on the case out of curiosity about the operations of the Tory Whips' office.
It's looking to inform its investors and its clients about the economic implications of all this. And it's honest in concluding that the consequences are far from clear.
Even assessing the UK's existing position, it's not easy to tell how the benefits of membership compare with the costs.
It's even less easy to compare future benefits with the costs of exiting the EU and having a looser free trade pact - or the longer term benefits that could, arguably, flow from that.
But the plausible possibility, even before a Brexit, is that the UK could find itself in too weak a negotiating position to veto further transfers of power from London to Brussels, including financial market regulation, a banking union and a transactions tax.
Nothing could be more likely to fire up the campaign for a Brexit.
And given the way Britain is being seen across the rest of Europe as it grapples to sustain its own currency project and the strains show through, the response to those Olympian Brits may well be a multi-lingual 'good riddance'.
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Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. The Great British Brexit [Online] (Updated 10th Aug 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1445636/The-Great-British-Brexit [Accessed 23rd Jul 2014]
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With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com