How Britain pursues its relationship with the EU is full of consequence for others
Opinion: Internal UK politics is already a paralysing force in the affairs of the Union
The so-called “red card” proposal, whereby a minority of national parliaments could veto an EU law that had already been approved by both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, in both of which the UK is represented, would paralyse decision-making and could even block measures Britain wants, like liberalisation of the services market.
Some Tory MPs even argue that an unspecified group of national parliaments should be able to repeal existing EU laws, bypassing the European Parliament and the EU’s existing decision-making structures.
This would be to reopen the long-settled compromises on which the single market is based and make them continually subject to populist pressures.
Both of these proposals would require a treaty change, because the role of national parliaments in the EU process is defined in a protocol to the existing treaties, and a protocol has the same legal status as a treaty article. To change a protocol, every single member state, and the European Parliament, would have to agree.
Another likely UK demand would be that national courts, rather than the European Court of Justice, should the final adjudicator on disputes concerning the meaning of EU agreements on the fight against crime. This could mean 28 different interpretations, and many new loopholes through which well-advised criminals could evade justice.
Should Britain vote to leave the EU, a new negotiation would start under article 50 of the treaty to decide the terms on which it would have access to the union for its people, goods and services. This would have to be concluded within two years, unless there was unanimous agreement to an extension.
Article 50 of the EU Treaty requires a qualified majority in the European Council and a majority in the parliament to agree the terms to be granted to a country withdrawing from the EU. It is likely that such terms would include a continuing financial contribution to the budget in return for continuing access to the EU single market.
If no agreement were reached within two years, the UK would be out of the EU and subject to immediate restrictions and tariffs on its exports to it. Customs posts would have to be reintroduced on the Border in Ireland and at cross-channel ports.
If then the UK wanted to restrict immigration from the EU, it would have to introduce passport controls on the Irish Border, or between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, either of which would undermine the work done to promote peace and reconciliation.
These would, of course, be unintended consequences, but the unintended often happens in politics, and initiatives can sometimes escape from the control of their initiator.