Britain should hold its planned referendum on European Union membership in 2017, not this year as the British government is planning, to boost the chances that the UK will remain in the Union, according to Lord (David) Owen, former British foreign secretary and member of the OMFIF advisory board.
The EU under Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, is now discussing plans for a substantial new treaty for further integration, with a proposed timetable due to be published in early 2017, Owen says in a speech in Berlin today.
‘This has a significant bearing on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiating plans, ‘ he says. ‘This creates an opening for a British referendum in November or early December 2017, a year later than currently planned. This would take into account possible treaty changes involving the European Economic Area, something I have long championed. But the UK is instead preparing for a referendum in 2016. Juncker and Cameron would be better served by bringing together their separate negotiations, and extending them to the end of 2017. It is not too late to negotiate for an expanded non-integrated European Economic Area to continue alongside an integrated euro area.’
Speaking at a conference in Berlin on 14 January organised by the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany, the German-British Forum and OMFIF, Owen says the British government since 2010 has made clear that it is more than content to support an ‘efficiently designed’ euro area, as its continued failure harms the British economy.
‘But virtually every necessary reform puts the euro system on the path to greater political integration, a direction of travel neither I nor many British people want to embark on, ‘ he says, adding that Britain needs to enforce necessary safeguards with its EU partners to protect the UK’s single market rights outside the euro area. Unless these safeguards are agreed, ‘Britain is likely to vote to leave when it holds a referendum on EU membership, most likely in June or September this year’.
He castigated the EU as holding ‘a dialogue of the deaf… that feeds the belief in the UK that it is better to get out of the whole EU mess now before it damages our growth and prospects any more. This is not cynical but hard-headed realism. It comes on top of the fact that there are legitimate concerns not just in the UK over important aspects of the EU’s foreign and defence policies’. Monetary union in Europe, Owen says, has been ‘a project that was doomed to destroy Europe’s then slowly evolving unity’.
He called on Cameron and Juncker to bring together their separate negotiations on single market safeguards and a new integration treaty. Otherwise, ‘if Britain is asked to vote in 2016, then the chance of Brexit will markedly increase’.