The case being made for the UK to remain within the EU can be summed up in one four-letter word beginning with F – FEAR. If the UK leaves, it will become irrelevant and insignificant, and/or the remaining EU will be likely to instigate some kind of economic war against us, if not, they hint, something worse.
Let us examine the first of these fear factors: that we will be irrelevant. The argument is that the UK will not have the influence of the EU in trade negotiations, that other nations and trading blocs will not bother themselves with discussing matters with little old us, whereas at present we get to sit at the big table, due to the size of the combined EU.
However, at the moment we have no seat at the table at all, as that seat is taken by an EU representative, who will be putting forward the perceived advantage, not of the UK, but of the EU. The only influence we have, therefore, is the influence as one of 27 over the EU’s negotiating position. If the EU is successful in a particular negotiation, that does not automatically mean that the UK’s interests have been advanced. It may be that the EU’s negotiating position is contrary to our interests. So, even if the UK standing alone has less influence than the EU combined, in many cases this will mean an independent UK will have a voice instead of no voice at all.
All of the above implies that the kind of trade negotiations engaged in by the EU and others are worthwhile in the first place. This is not necessarily the case. When Britain led the world in free trade, it was acting unilaterally. It was applying the economic principle of comparative advantage, for which we have James Mill and David Ricardo to thank. The institution of free trade was not justified as some kind of act of self-sacrifice, but rather as an advantage to the nation. If other countries wished to continue with policies of protectionism, that was their affair. If governments wished to prop up uneconomic industries and use their own tax-payers’ money to subsidise production, the result would be cheaper products for our consumers.
The issue of free trade has come up in recent years with regard to Africa, with Africans bemoaning the fact that they are expected to continue as suppliers of raw materials only, and not any goods which might directly compete with those produced in the EU. Africans are increasingly aware that it is trade and economic development and not charity which are the keys to prosperity. Outside the EU, the UK would be able to remove protectionist barriers erected for the perceived benefit of various continental industries, and become again an open market for the world’s producers.
The second fear factor is that of the remaining EU nations retaliating against us. Considering the balance of trade, and ignoring the benefits of all trade, this would hurt the EU more than it hurt the UK. This does not mean that vindictive politicians would not pursue this course, nor that the consumers in EU countries may not also abjure British products, but, even if such a threat is likely to come about, is this really a good reason to stay within the EU? What it boils down to is: “Be part of our happy family, or we will try to destroy you”. If the supposed brotherhood of fellow Europeans is so wafer-thin, what value are we expected to attach to it? This is not friendship, but acquiescence to a bully.
We must certainly assume that the political powers in Brussels would wish to see the UK flounder outside the EU, pour encourager les autres. They know that their power is largely imaginary, and as Daniel Hannan mentioned recently, like a man on a bicycle, they have to keep moving forward or fall over. With the UK outside, other non-core nations may wish to reassert their independence. Indeed, it is interesting to speculate how different the political development of Europe would have been over the last forty years, had the UK stuck with the EFTA model. The nations of central and eastern Europe may well have chosen to join a looser confederation, rather than plunge into the EU after finally freeing themselves of the bane of foreign domination at the hands of the Communist bloc.
As a libertarian, the argument for leaving the EU is not based on any love for the British state, nor a preference for being molested and mulcted by British bureaucrats rather than foreigners. Such a view would ignore the truth, that whatever disadvantages visited upon us by our membership of the EU, it is British politicians and British bureaucrats who are wholly responsible. We have just as many, if not more, pen-pushing, clipboard-wielding, jumped-up little jobsworths, who love to use the petty rules of officialdom to feed parasitically upon the rest of us. These are the people who take the regulations handed down from Brussels via Westminster and enforce them with glee, whereas their equivalents in many other places leave them as dead letters.
All that said, however, I can find no coherent libertarian argument for supporting, in addition to the domestic state with all its abuses and inherent criminality, another over-arching state, such as that which the architects of the EU intended.
(Picture: Brueghel’s Tower of Babel)