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Today, I Will Vote to Leave the EU (and Enter the World)

John Phelan

This article is a response to "Four Reasons I Will Vote to Remain in the EU," by the ASI's Sam Bowman.

I know, like, and respect Sam Bowman, but I think he is wrong on each of the four points in his recent article arguing for Britain to remain in the European Union. Today, I will be voting to leave the EU.

Immigration. I’m a libertarian and share Sam’s support for the right for people to move around. But it is a myth that the UK has, thanks to the EU, some sort of libertarian dream of open borders. Indeed, I am married to an American who had to jump through hurdle after hurdle to live in the UK, something she would not have had to do had she been lucky enough to have popped into this world in an EU member state. The UK currently has a system that discriminates against immigrants based on where they were born, a factor exogenous to the immigrant.

The points system proposed by the Leave campaign also discriminates, but it does so on the basis of a factor endogenous to the immigrant, their skills. Again, I’m a libertarian, and this system of discrimination based on skills is sub-optimal. But so, also, is the current system of discrimination based on where you happen to be born.

I also agree with Sam that the notion that immigration should be something that ought to be "controlled" is wrong, but, again, we also have that now. And indeed, as we are often told, a points-based system can lead to higher immigration than the UK has at present.

The economy. The EU is becoming less and less economically important to the UK. In 2002, 61 percent of British goods exports went to the EU, by 2014 that was down to 44 percent - a fall of 29 percent. This, it should be remembered, occurred at a time when the population of the EU increased by about 102 million with the expansions of 2004 and 2007.

By contrast, the fall in intra-EU trade for the EU as a whole was just 9 percent. In other words, the EU became less important to the UK at three times the rate than was the case for other EU members. Indeed, only Malta sends a lower share of its goods exports to other EU members.

For all the talk of the single market and free trade in Europe, the EU is, in fact, a customs union with a wall of tariffs around it. For example, look at its recent desire to use tariffs to protect EU citizens from cheap Chinese steel, which were opposed by the British government.

As an EU member, if the UK wants a free trade agreement with another country something that, as its trade profile shows, it would benefit from disproportionately — it must wait for the EU to negotiate one on behalf of all 28 members via the Common Commercial Policy.

This process is as cumbersome as it sounds. The EU is currently negotiating free trade agreements with two countries, Australia and India, which, for historical and cultural reasons, would disproportionately benefit the UK. Yet, the agreement with Australia is being blocked by Italian tomato growers, and the agreement with India has gone nowhere for nine years.

It is also worth noting that the UK can be a member of the EU’s single market without being in the EU itself. 

Political norms. This is probably my greatest source of disagreement with Sam. Both sides have embarrassed themselves in this campaign, but the Remain campaign has set new, low, standards in the systematic bullying and scaring of the British public.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer enlisted the Treasury, supposedly an impartial government department, to generate an utterly dishonest estimate of how much worse off people would supposedly be in the event of Brexit. We have had the spectacle of the Chancellor threatening to punish people for voting for Brexit. The President of the European Council even warned that Brexit could lead to the collapse of Western civilization.

In short, the Remain campaign has been, for the most part, negative, noxious, and hyperbolic.

Democracy. I agree with Sam that democracy is a means to the ends of liberty and prosperity, and it ought to be curtailed when it threatens them. But Remain campaigners have spent a lot of time telling us that the EU is, in fact, more democratic than the UK.

I confess, I find this argument curious given that the people who originate legislation in the EU, the European Commission, are political appointees, some of whom have never been elected to anything, by anybody, anywhere. And, by one estimate, the cost of the 100 most burdensome EU-derived regulations to the UK economy stands at £33.3bn a year in 2014 prices.

This, in part, is what Margaret Thatcher was referring to in her Bruges speech of 1988, when she said that “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.” Sadly, that has become the reality of Britain’s EU membership.

I agree that being outside things like the common external tariff and the common agricultural policy while remaining in the Single Market would be a fine thing. And, in the event of Brexit, I will be side by side with Sam campaigning for those things at Westminster.

But the EU is not a beacon of internationalisation and liberalism. It is an economic Festung Europa designed to keep the rest of the world out. Today, I’m voting to leave the European Union because there is a bigger, beautiful world out there.

Disclaimer: These opinions are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Cobden Centre.

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