‘Second civil war’ breaks out over EU deal

Boris to the left, Dave to the right: the famous 17th century image reimagined by our own artist

Rarely has Britain been so bitterly divided. Yesterday the gloves came off in the biggest political battle of the decade: over whether to stay in or leave the EU. Why does it matter so much?

‘A stinking pile of manure’. ‘A dismal failure’. ‘Footling, pedantic and almost certainly ineffective’.

Just a few quotes from the British press yesterday.

The best-known living Tory of them all, Boris Johnson, said Cameron had ‘made the best of a bad job’. Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said ‘the thin gruel has been further watered down’.

And according to former Tory cabinet minister Liam Fox, Cameron was offering only ‘better membership of the wrong club’. Several Cabinet ministers are expected to speak out against the deal in the upcoming referendum campaign.

For nine months, the prime minister has tried to reach a deal which would convince the British people to remain in the EU. On Tuesday, he said a draft settlement would deliver ‘substantial change’. But yesterday, many said it would mean service as normal.

We must decide, they said, whether the dysfunctional union is worth saving at all, or whether it might not be better to let it die and fall back to the surer ground of the democratic nation states.

These eurosceptics are keen to place their cause within Britain’s tradition of democratic reform.

Such heritage arguably dates from 1215, when King John was forced to sign Magna Carta, ending absolute royal power. In the 17th century, two monarchs were overthrown amid accusations they had become too powerful: parliamentarians removed Charles I in the English civil war of the 1640s, and James II fled to France in 1688.

But pro-EU campaigners stress Britain’s history of integration. The UK is a collection of nations. England and Wales were conjoined in 1284, and union followed with Scotland in 1707 and Ireland in 1801. And Britain has had a close recent relationship with Europe: it became a member of the European Economic Community in 1973 and subsequently agreed to the assimilationist treaties of Maastricht, Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon.

Britain’s voters will now consider how power should be divided between the UK parliament and the EU.

More power to EU

Decisions should be taken at the most local level possible, say some. Small groups of people are best equipped to take decisions in their best interests and to respond flexibly to changing situations. People should be able to take responsibility for themselves; a monolithic organisation, like the EU, ends up forgetting about their interests.

That is too risky, others respond — when crises strike, we need others to help us through them. The best decisions get made when people work together, whereas isolating ourselves in small communities leads to pointless competition against each other. And in today’s globalised world, working together is more important than ever before.

You Decide

  1. Do you prefer making decisions for yourself, in small groups or in big groups? Why?
  2. Should the UK remain in the EU or leave it?

Activities

  1. Create two campaign posters — one calling for Britain to remain in the EU, the other for Britain to leave. Make sure they are relevant to this article.
  2. Split into teams of three for a debate on the proposition: ‘This House believes the UK should leave the EU’. Divide each team so that each person researches and presents one topic (for example, the economy). Then debate with one of the other teams.

Some People Say...

“There should be a government of the world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Isn’t this just a series of negotiations between men in suits?
Britain’s decision could change trading relationships, meaning people would do very different jobs in years to come. At the moment, people from across the EU are free to live, work and retire in other EU states. This creates both opportunities and tensions: for example, you could take a job in another country, but you could also see someone from another EU country take a job you are qualified for in your own country. And it will affect political relationships between countries’ leaders.
Does this affect anyone other than the UK?
The UK’s referendum campaign could give rise to similar campaigns elsewhere in the EU. And if the UK leaves, it will have a knock-on impact on economic and political relationships around the world.

Word Watch

Cabinet
The prime minister’s team of senior ministers are traditionally bound by collective responsibility, meaning they should support government policy in public or resign. Cameron has said he will allow ministers to campaign for Britain to leave the EU once the referendum is underway.
Draft
Cameron will now try to secure agreement for the deal at an EU summit in Brussels in two weeks’ time. Reports suggest the governments of Poland, Portugal, Bulgaria and Malta see an ‘emergency brake’ on benefits for migrants as discriminatory.
Eurosceptics
People who think EU membership is not in the UK’s best interests.
Ireland
The Irish Republic was declared independent in 1922. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK.
European Economic Community
This ‘common market’, formed in 1957, promoted economic cooperation. The treaty behind it called for ‘ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’. The new draft deal recognises that the UK ‘is not committed to further political integration’ into the EU.
Maastricht
This was signed in 1991 and meant the EEC became part of the EU two years later.

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