Some interesting data has been released that reinforces one of the main truths about British euroscepticism. The Office for National Statistics reports that in the three months to May 2012, 51% of British exports went to non-EU countries (a rise of 13.2% on the previous year). Meanwhile exports to EU countries fell by 7.2% (the largest falls were to the troubled Eurozone economies).
The data has been seized upon by eurosceptics as yet more evidence that Britain is wise to seek its fortune away from the European Union. Indeed the inference for some is that this is the first sign of a momentous shift – the Daily Telegraph says that this is the first time non-EU exports have been higher than EU exports since Britain joined the Common Market in the 1970s.
However the truth that this reinforces is that eurosceptic sentiment in Britain is not simply the result of an ideological hatred of European ideals, the French, the grey skies above Brussels or the yearning for a lost global empire. It is also the result of a complex web of push and pull factors.
The shifts in trade are an understandable consequence of the economic troubles in Europe and continued growth elsewhere in the world. Even the most fervent pro-EU zealot must understand that Europe’s economic troubles and the woeful efforts to find a way out of the crisis readily translate into a desire for opportunities elsewhere. The pro-EU case is also much harder to make when the EU’s politicians seem to be displaying such apparent ineptitude in the face of economic calamity.
As such, it should come as no surprise that 47% of members of the British Chambers of Commerce would like looser ties with the EU, or the government – wisely – has invested a lot of effort in looking for opportunities in the BRICS and other rising global powers. Others – notably the Germans – have been no slouches when it comes to courting the Chinese and others.
British euroscepticism is an easy beast to attack, and its proponents – like Nigel Farage MEP of the United Kingdom Independence Party – often delight in playing the role of pantomime villains. It’s also an important force in Britain as UKIP’s success is forcing a more general shift towards eurosceptic messages (not least about the need for a referendum). However the real truth is that Britain is only likely to play an engaged and constructive role in Europe (to the benefit of all) if the EU begins to look a lot more attractive than it has of late.
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