Thursday marks the long-awaited vote by the citizens of the United Kingdom on whether to exit the European Union. President Obama has already made clear that he opposes so-called Brexit – he lectured the British that they would have trouble negotiating a trade deal with the United States if they left the EU: “that’s not going to happen anytime soon because our focus is negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done.”
So, what’s the truth about Brexit? Is it a good idea? Here are four myths about Brexit, and three reasons it’s a good idea for the UK to separate from the EU.
Brexit Must Result In Trade Wars. Opponents of Brexit seem deeply confident that the exit of the UK from the EU presages the rise of economic protectionism. Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal writes, “It may be that a “leave” vote will not have such dire consequences as the ‘remain’ campaign predict, and that the U.K. will join the happy ranks of Switzerland and Norway as a rich, European, non-EU state…. But this is not a normal era. If the U.K. leaves the EU, why shouldn’t Scotland secede from the former to rejoin the latter?” Greg Ip similarly writes, “Brexit would be the starkest repudiation yet of the postwar consensus favoring ever-deeper global integration.”
But why should that be so? Why shouldn’t the UK embrace new trade agreements while ditching its overblown obligations to a democracy-free EU? The United States has great trade relationships with Europe; so too do the Nordic nations Stephens mentions. Trade agreements are not difficult to negotiate so long as both sides are willing – and that willingness need not be linked with a loss of sovereignty.
Brexit Destroys European Security. People are worried that the UK leaving the EU would cripple the EU diplomatically – the group is only as powerful as the sum of its parts – and that the UK would not be able to bargain using other countries for backup. But this is nonsense. NATO still exists. The UK could easily sign defense pacts with other European nations. Pretending that a commonality of interest always exists in terms of foreign policy, however, is sheer nonsense – not when Germany is shipping in Syrian refugees at an astonishing rate.
Brexit Will Destroy The Economy. There are widespread fears that insecurity over the direction of Britain’s economic policy would “hit the country by lowering gains from trade, driving away foreign investment and threatening London’s position as a financial centre,” as Isabel Schnabel writes for the Financial Times. But why should this be so? The EU’s financial policies are largely socialistic – there’s a reason Germany has been paying Greece’s debt – and one of the only reasons the UK’s economy remains upright at this point has been their unwillingness to join the Euro, preferring to preserve the pound. Sovereignty does not dictate big government protectionism.
Brexit Will End Travel. Again, it’s true that British citizens can work and travel and live anywhere in the EU. But there’s no reason that the UK can’t sign a treaty that would establish a similar relationship. If EU member countries decide to punish the UK, that’s the EU’s fault – the UK isn’t rejecting European immigration wholesale simply by voting for Brexit.
In essence, then, most of the worries about Brexit amount to plausible but uncertain concerns about economics and security. But Brexit would be an answer to some guaranteed concerns.
Sovereignty Matters. Jonah Goldberg hits the nail on the head when he writes about the bureaucratic, unrepresentative nightmare Brussels represents to British sovereignty:
The European Union's bureaucracy and paper-parliament were set up to be as insulated as possible from the concerns of actual voters. Representatives to the European Parliament are selected by party elites as a kind of highbrow patronage. They invariably defer to the permanent bureaucracy, which acts like a transnational cartel, one that happens to be composed of governments. As Daniel Hannan, the rare Euroskeptic skunk to infiltrate the garden party that is the EU parliament, put it, "faced with a choice between democracy and supra-nationalism, the EU will always choose supra-nationalism."
The UK did just fine without Europe for centuries. Granting their own citizens more say in their own lives sounds like a fine notion.
Immigration Must Be Curbed. EU immigration policy is a disaster. It’s even more of a disaster because Britain has little say in just who can travel in and out of its borders. Total freedom of travel into a welfare state is a problem. Freedom of travel by unvetted Muslim refugees is even more of a problem. Here’s EU Parliament member from the UK Daniel Hannan: “Outside the EU, we can control our immigration policy. More passports are checked at Britain’s borders than at those of the other 27 EU states put together. The former Secretary General of Interpol, Ronald Noble, describes the Schengen Zone as ‘an international passport-free zone for terrorists to execute attacks on the Continent and make their escape’.”
Bureaucracy Sucks. The EU is just a giant bureaucratic machine. The EU parliament is nearly powerless, and merely rubber stamps the bureaucracy. That worked for as long as it worked. It doesn’t – not when countries like Greece and Spain can simply run up their debt and insist that everyone else foot the bills. As former London Mayor Boris Johnson says, “Sometimes these EU rules sound simply ludicrous, like the rule that you can’t recycle a teabag, or that children under eight cannot blow up balloons, or the limits on the power of vacuum cleaners. Sometimes they can be truly infuriating – like the time I discovered, in 2013, that there was nothing we could do to bring in better-designed cab windows for trucks, to stop cyclists being crushed. It had to be done at a European level, and the French were opposed.”
Overall, conservative governance seems far more likely in a sovereign Britain than in a redistributionist EU defined by a race to the bottom on immigration and economics. Conservatives should worry about trade policy with the EU, but they don’t have to sacrifice sovereignty for prosperity. Brexit seems like a better bet for the British than sticking around waiting to see what insane idea Brussels comes up with next.