OPINION
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Europe leaves UK

Prime Minister Cameron welcomes the pretext offered by the rise of an anti-EU party to talk tough to Brussels

In January David Cameron, mealy-mouthing that he wished to "clarify the position" of the United Kingdom in the European Union, demanded Britain's exemption from certain directives of Brussels, while "not ruling out withdrawal" from the EU. He thus sought to take some wind out of the electoral sails of the UKIP party, whose main selling point is withdrawal from the EU. In the recent municipal elections, Nigel Farage's party obtained 23 percent of the vote, and the opinion polls give him 18 percent at the national level. But those who fear British defection can rest easy, because they will probably stay put.

The British Isles sells half its exports to the EU, and receives a similar percentage of foreign investment from the continent. But this does not explain everything. British foreign policy often resembles a show in which personalities play roles, now under the direction of Cameron, with shrinking support from his party, which is even more euro-skeptical than he is. Cameron keeps A and B accounts. The priority version is that his government has to make concessions to anti-EU feeling to ensure it remains in the EU, such as the promise to hold a referendum on membership if it wins the next elections, which would set the plebiscite back to 2017. But in the B list, the dispensations he is demanding from the EU are the very minimum that he desires for his country, UKIP or no, which makes this "separatist" party the perfect excuse for talking tough to Brussels. Faced with the prospect of having to vote in two referendums, one on Scottish independence and the other on the implacable insularity of Britain, the public inclines by some 70 percent in favor of the right to self-determination, but hovers rather under 50 percent on the issue of actually walking out of the EU.

UKIP is a British Tea Party that feeds on the progressive sociological Europeanization of the average citizen

Farage, who cheerfully calls himself a populist and cultivates a working-class, pub-going image, is in fact well connected to the establishment. And, among the more educated reaches of the population, there is nothing more English than the spirit of contradiction, though administered always in the exact homeopathic doses so as not to disturb the existing landscape: the pro-Arab Jew, the animal-hating zoologist, the Protestant who throughout his whole political life was a closet Catholic... a whole array of oxymoronic, unique cases. Farage's extremism is, moreover, perfect for those who bear Europe some grudge, see themselves outflanked on the right, and can thus feel they are moderate centrists. UKIP, with its chauvinism, is a British Tea Party that feeds on the progressive sociological Europeanization of the average citizen, who feels anxious that the day may come when he will fail to recognize his own bulldog face in the mirror. The underlying agreement between the two main actors in this show is thus a functional one. Farage wants the United Kingdom out of Europe; Cameron, Europe out of the United Kingdom, which is not so very different. Even that shining wonder of British journalism, The Economist, expresses an Anglo-Saxonism that looks skeptically on the continent as when in an editorial it called François Hollande a "rather dangerous man" for his "anti-business attitude," putting its finger in the open sore of what Cameron and his conservatives fear most about the EU: that other cities in Europe may challenge London's hegemony as an international financial center.

Without the UK, Europe would lack the sense of cultural empire and world knowledge embodied in the BBC; a certain military capacity, lacking in the rest of the EU; the input of a country which, together with Spain, has spread its language over large areas of the world. But the UK will always be a favored player in Europe. As Cameron said, belonging to the EU "is not an end in itself, but a guarantee of prosperity and stability for this island nation." As Ortega y Gasset put it in reference to a case closer to home, we "have to get along with each other."