Almost every self-declared libertarian I’ve heard from seems to believe some version of the idea that “leaving the EU is the greatest step toward liberty we can make in our lifetimes”.
I disagree. In fact I go further and suggest it would be a regressive step to give those who wish to rule us from the den of thieves and liars at Westminster free rein, as they see it, to get on with what Michael Gove chillingly to me at least called “patriotic renewal”. For a couple of decades at least they will claim, every election, and we will likely agree by voting for them, that they need more power and more time to repatriate the powers and regulations they claim Brussels has stolen from us.
But my decision is based on more than that. This has been a tiresome few months. Claims and counterclaims from people I mistrust the most in the world are supposed to sway us to their side. I said in March that I would likely vote to remain, but for almost entirely negative reasons: I have no love for the institutions of the EU; I think Cameron’s idea of “reforms” were more like a “black op” to ensure people felt it was an unyielding organisation that we would be better leaving.
Personally, I believe that, as the words of the treaty go, “ever closer union of the peoples of Europe” is, in fact, an admirable aim, that politicians have corrupted into “ever closer union of the government of Europe”. Yet I don’t think we can help to achieve the admirable aim from the outside. And nor can we help to ensure the less admirable, political aims, will not happen from the outside. And we will be left as a mediocre blowhard country on the edge of a 500 million strong superstate anyway. Eclipsed.
What of some of the claims of those who want to leave that we will be better off out? Personally I think they are living in a dream world. They keep going on about our economic strength. And it is true, if you use a crude measure of GDP we remain a “world economic power”. But do we, really?
When you look at Gross National Income per capita, equalised out to take into account the cost of living in different countries (“purchasing power parity”) we are mediocre. This measure includes money we earn from foreign investments and excludes money taken out by overseas investors in Britain. It’s a much truer measure of our individual prosperity than the crude GDP everyone likes to quote.
We have been mediocre for a long time. As I wrote a few years ago, by this measure we have, for most of the past forty years, been at best seventh of the nine members of the EU when we joined. And twelfth or thirteenth of the fifteen members in 1995. In 1980 for God’s sake we were worse off than Greece! We are doing slightly better at the moment, because others have been in deeper recession for longer, but when that rights itself we will no doubt dip back to the long term trend of mediocrity. We are still only 27th in the world, behind Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Finland, France and Ireland of our EU partners. Crucially, the ones that people have compared our possible life outside the EU to, Norway and Switzerland, are first and fourth in the world, ahead of all the EU other than tiny Luxembourg.
If there is a tsunami of international money currently not trading with us, where is it, and why are they not doing so? I simply do not believe they are not doing so because we are in the EU. I don’t believe it exists. Who are they trading with whom they would drop to trade with us? Indeed a lot of our trade with the rest of the world may be utterly dependent on being in the EU, and will seek other, EU, trading partners if we leave.
What about the claimed “democratic deficit” in Europe? Well, first, just because things are done differently there, does not make them undemocratic. There are 28 political systems in the union and the Brussels system will not be identical to any of them. The only time in my adult life I have been able to vote for someone who actually ends up representing me is in EU elections under the proportional system. I have never once been represented in Westminster by someone I actually voted for. Our effectively two party system affords little differences of opinion. At least in the European parliament there are multiple political groups, with members from across the union, to give common voice to my liberal political outlook.
As for “unelected bureaucrats” being in control, how is that any different from here. Our permanent civil service is the thing that draws up bills following the agreement of a government whom we don’t get to elect directly anyway. More than half of our legislators are unelected, often failed or superannuated politicians, but also political place people put there through patronage, sometimes suspect, always undemocratic. Who could rise to Michael Gove’s challenge and be able to name any of the British Supreme Court, or the permanent bureaucracy?
The much vaunted ability of our legislators to bring forward legislation of their own is a chimera. Most are government bills, and most privately initiated bills stand no chance of reaching the statute books unless supported by the government. This is itself little different from getting the agreement at the start, which is how our elected EU parliamentarians have to do it.
I am much more sanguine about “foreigners” making our laws. It means that different political opinion from across a diverse ranger of nations and cultures have to agree, which to me is far better than just whatever party gets about 35% of the votes in Britain.
What about immigration? I actually find EU migration less of a problem than that from outside the EU. I don’t have much problem with either as an open borders advocate anyway. But our way of “controlling” immigration since at least the seventies has been to ask people who come here to make a permanent choice: to apply for permanent residency and hopefully citizenship. This crystallizes their status, where perhaps previously people from the commonwealth would want to come here, make their fortune and head back home to improve their own families and countries. EU migration, on the other hand, is “free movement” – people can go home as well as come here. We’ve already seen a wave of previous Polish workers head home when the economic conditions improved for them at home. I’d expect to see much more of that in future as it becomes the norm (especially, as mentioned above, because we are at best a mediocre economy anyway and more likely, more quickly, to be comparable with “back home” wherever that is). Overall, however, immigration is just not an argument for me. If there are shortages of public services or housing or whatever, that’s because of decisions made by our politicians unable to manage the country properly, not because of migrants themselves.
Finally, there are dozens and dozens of secessionist movements within Europe, from the most well known Scottish and Catalan independence movements, to Tyrollean or Silesian secessionists and the campaign to split Belgium into its ethnic constituents. I want to see a world of small polities ruling themselves as much as is practical. In Europe we get an opportunity to mix with them and try and support them, as, hopefully, they may one day do for Oxfordshire or Wessex. Giving our politicians what they call “national sovereignty” back reinforces the model of nation state I would like to move away from.
So remain it is. I see less chance for “freedom” under a Westminster with a renewed sense of their own sovereignty and mandate.