Tim L. Oliver

Europe without Britain

Assessing the Impact on the European Union of a British Withdrawal

SWP Research Paper 2013/RP 07, September 2013, 30 Pages

The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has the potential to fundamentally change the EU and European integration. On the one hand, a withdrawal could tip the EU towards protectionism, exacerbate existing division, or unleash centrifugal forces leading to the EU’s unravelling. Alternatively, the EU could free itself of its most awkward member, making the EU easier to lead and more effective. Despite these potentially significant consequences, analysis of the implications for the EU remains quite limited. Most analysis of a UK withdrawal has instead focused on the implications for the UK, or the implications for the EU of a renegotiated UK membership. The threat of a withdrawal also underpins Prime Minister David Cameron’s hopes to one day secure a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship within the EU. If a UK renegotiation would profoundly change the EU, then a British withdrawal would also affect it in a big way.

As this paper sets out, a British withdrawal would require the EU to face three sets of interrelated challenges. First, there will be the short-term challenge of negotiating and managing a UK withdrawal. Second, as part of the withdrawal negotiations the EU will need to reach agreement with the UK over a post-withdrawal relationship. The EU will then have to live with that relationship. Finally, the EU will need to manage a series of changes to itself, such as shifts in the balance of power within the EU, change brought to its relations with the other non-EU parts of Europe, and the implications for the EU’s security and place in the world. The paper aims to begin discussion of these issues, setting out a series of questions the EU needs to ask itself about a British withdrawal.

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