The UK government will hold an in-out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017, which could result in the UK choosing to leave the EU – ‘Brexit’. Prime Minister David Cameron’s strategy is to renegotiate the terms of UK membership, then to recommend a ‘yes’ vote for remaining in the EU. The scope for securing new exemptions for the UK is, however, limited, not least because the list of those already in place is long and growing, while the number of countries which resist deeper integration in key policy areas is shrinking.
Although some of the UK’s closer allies in the EU are receptive to some of the reforms Cameron advocates, there have already been several instances when, faced with a choice between siding with the UK or favouring the wider European interest, they have chosen the latter. This conjunction raises tricky dilemmas around the UK’s continued participation in the EU and the prospect that, if the UK is repeatedly rebuffed or is seen as wanting too many exceptions, there will be a de facto push towards the exit door. ‘Brexpulsion’, rather than a UK choice for ‘Brexit’, may not be imminent, but is an outcome that cannot be dismissed.