It has been an obvious tactic. Remain advocates are attempting to shame Britons into voting In. One unsubtle social media meme even implied that a vote for Brexit makes you intolerant, close-minded and unkind. The evidence? Apparently Nigel Farage stood in front of a distasteful poster about migration, and he’s in favour of leaving. So a vote to leave endorses him.
What nonsense. A vote to leave is no more an endorsement of Farage’s agenda than a vote to remain is an endorsement of David Cameron’s or, for that matter, Jeremy Corbyn’s. Even Vote Leave is not an opposition government. Its representatives can outline visions of what they want a post-Brexit Britain to look like, but they have to be elected to implement it.
This referendum question is not about policies. The ballot question is simply whether or not we should be a member of the political union that is the EU. That question is bigger than current events, general elections or current politicians and their views. To quote US economist Thomas Sowell, it is the most basic question of politics: not about what is best policy, but who shall decide what is best.
In answering that question, we all weigh up the pros and cons according to our priorities and values. We assess what we want to be democratically controlled and guess what the consequences would be depending on where power lies. For some, EU constraints on sovereignty to prevent, for example, a dilution of certain employment laws are a welcome protection. For others, certain EU constraints on migration policy or in negotiating TTIP are unacceptable. For others still, the desire for total democratic control is paramount.
My own view is that many of the things the EU has done have improved Europe, and some constraints on government can be welcome. For many countries, the EU has prevented damaging protectionist instincts. There is little evidence that the EU held back significantly the UK’s much improved economic performance either, which began with essential supply-side reforms under Margaret Thatcher.
Yet where the Remainers go wrong is to assume that leaving would somehow reverse these effects. The gains are baked in. Economically liberal measures are entrenched in treaties for other states. Meanwhile, most leavers want to leave because they want a more open trading Britain, are fed up with EU regulation stifling innovation in areas such as clinical trials, and think EU budgets prioritise spending in the wrong areas.
This referendum is about the future, not the past. Looking forward, the EU’s driving ideology of centralisation and harmonisation is simply unfit for global realities. A free-trading nation is hit hard by EU protectionism and its inability to manage 28 member states’ competing interests to expand free trade to fast growing areas. In fact, we have also given up our independent seats on global institutions alongside this loss of power, diluting our global influence.
Most problems are either global or highly local. The EU is simply an uneasy, cumbersome, largely unaccountable middle level of government, inflexible to changing circumstances and obsessed with harmonising further in response to every crisis. The result has been mass unemployment in southern Europe while the EU debates the strength of vacuum cleaners.
Of course, it would be churlish to ignore that there would be some uncertainty after a leave vote. But our economy is robust enough to deal with it. The Treasury, IMF and others assume Brexit would be bad for Britain in the longer term because they assume we’d make bad political decisions if we left – not changing any regulations and imposing barriers to trade. I truly believe we’d do the opposite.
They ignore the risks of remaining too – how Britain may become increasingly subservient to the Eurozone within the EU institutions, on the hook for an increased EU budget, and affected by the clear desire for ever-more centralisation in other areas such as company law and employment legislation.
It’s worth stepping back to the big picture. Clearly, countries around the world show that EU membership is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for long-term economic success. The economic question is then ultimately linked to your view of the quality of different governmental institutions: whether you think, on net, Britain’s democracy will provide better long-term outcomes than more and more power resting with EU elites.
Unlike the Remainers, I do not believe granting more democratic control to the British people will lead us to become more intolerant and unkind, inward-looking, small-minded, and in favour of protectionist politics. Of course there’s a risk with democracy that people will be elected to do things we, as individuals, do not like. But we have the power to change it. Remainers ignore that unaccountable power can entrench things we do not like (such as the indefensible Common Agricultural Policy) for much longer.
In fact, Brexit is an opportunity for a genuinely exciting globalist future, embracing real free trade, innovation, and accountable power. Much would stay the same initially – Brexit is no utopia and we are entrenched in the EU after 43 years as a member. But voting Leave begins a long-term opportunity for our self-correcting democratic process to chart its own course, responding to events and opportunities. A chance to forge new ties, advocate for economic and democratic freedom, fight protectionism and return legitimacy to government. A chance we should take.