It took more than four years from the point that the EU referendum took place for the United Kingdom to finally leave the European Union, so maybe it’s best to just accept the situation and see what the future holds.
Talk of re-joining the common market would be rather premature then, and instead focusing on what kind of a trade deal that Boris Johnson and his team can secure moving forward.
But it’s an interesting one, isn’t it? What happens if there is a change in government in the next couple of years? What happens if public sentiment changes, and in a post-Covid world the security of being a single market member appeals once more?
Can the UK even legally re-join the European Union? These are all interesting questions, and while it remains to be seen if any of them will be asked any time soon, maybe one day it’s a conversation that will be had by someone, somewhere.
Can the UK Legally Re-Join the EU?
Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union outlines how a country can join the EU….or re-join.
So, if the UK (which is treated as a single entity rather than England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) wants to settle old scores and return to the single market, it would have to satisfy the criteria of Article 49.
And those are:
- Being a European state/country
- Commit to Article 2 protocol on human rights, democracy, quality etc
- Being unanimously approved for membership by the EU Council
- Being approved by a majority vote of the European Parliament
In addition, the UK would have to satisfy the Copenhagen Criteria (1993), which is similar to Article 2 and requires political and economic stability and a willingness to accept EU law.
And so there is a pathway for the UK to re-join the EU, however note that members of the European Union must approve the UK’s application – back in 1961 and 1967, that was rejected by the French prime minister Charles de Gaulle who believed ceding to the United Kingdom would not be good for intra-European relations.
What are the Chances of the UK Re-Joining the EU?
It will take time, you suspect, before re-joining the EU is even a topic for debate and the current odds of this happening by the end of 2026 current sit at an unlikely 1/10.
There is a clear demand for centre-right politics in the UK, hence why the Conservative Party continue to dominate at the polls, and that – allied to an ageing population – will ensure that a small majority is opposed to single market membership for a while yet.
That may change in the wake of coronavirus, and specifically the economic damage that the pandemic will surely cause for years on end. Back when the UK originally joined the EU, we were considered the ‘economic sick man’ of the continent as stagnation took hold, and membership was felt to be something of a security blanket. Could we see something similar in the future?
In 1975, the EU referendum saw 67% of voters say yes to single market membership, which in real terms was 17 million people for and eight million against. A lot has changed since, but it shows that the public aren’t opposed to being part of the Union when it makes sense to do so.
It will be a while before the implications of Brexit are felt too. These will range from mild annoyances – longer queues at airport arrivals, more forms to fill in and changes to travel insurance – to genuinely harshly felt changes, such as the increased cost of importing food (which will increase shopping bills), cars and medicines….ultimately, we will all see a difference in how much money we have.
Such sentiment may change the psychology of Euro sceptics….but just don’t expect any more formal opposition to appear for some time yet.
Will We Ever See a Reunion Political Party?
Nigel Farage was a constant thorn in the side of the Remain campaign, and his Brexit Party ended up doing much of the bidding of the Conservatives in getting the Leave vote over the line.
So could we see a polar opposite to the Brexit Party….perhaps the Reunion Party?
It’s possible, but again don’t expect the mainstream parties to use the possibility of re-joining the EU in their future election campaigning. Labour have sat on the fence since day one, while you can only guess what’s going on in within the increasingly irrelevant Liberal Democrats.
One political movement has already emerged as a pro-EU party. The Volt Party will campaign on the grounds of re-joining the common market, citing ‘open, progressive and collaborative’ politics.
Part of the Volt Europa network, they could be an interesting player moving forward, although spokesperson Alex Gunter may have to come up with a more persuasive argument than the one he has given so far. “British people care about being able to take their dog on holiday in the summer. Without pet passports that will no longer be possible. Roaming charges will skyrocket once again, card charges might too!”