Britain could likely win back membership on its current terms but the tricky part would be the rebateby Vicky Pryce / July 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images If Britain somehow pulled the plug on Brexit before 29th March next year, it could keep membership on its current terms. But the moment it formally leaves the club—even if only into a transition where little else obvious immediately changes—it will become a “third country,” and find itself having to haggle to get back to where it started. The European Union could, in theory, be as intransigent about requiring the full terms—including a plan for euro membership—as any ordinary new member could expect. But because the EU—even now—would be delighted by a British rethink, it would be more flexible than that. Brussels wouldn’t seek to impose a single currency. Britain should also be able to stay outside the passport-free travel Schengen area, which is—after all—already in flux. And with skill, the UK could also possibly keep David Cameron’s pre- referendum concessions regarding symbolic exemption from “ever closer union,” and a guarantee that eurozone integration would not disadvantage Britain or the City. So in many respects, if Brexit stopped, Britain could likely keep its own rules. But the thing it would likely find impossible to hold on to is the hard-won rebate that Margaret Thatcher secured. This is a money-back perk that no other country enjoys, that today looks like an anachronism. It was originally calculated with reference to where EU funds for farming and other things went back in the 1980s; but the EU budget was spent differently then, and it was also spread between many fewer member states. As well as ignoring EU payments to the UK, Leave campaigners deliberately ignored the rebate when they sprayed their misleading claim about £350m a week on the side of the bus. What an irony it would be if the upshot of reversing the referendum which they won with this statistical lie would be to make it a little bit less untrue.