Since the Brexit vote, critics of the outcome have leveled multiple criticisms at the Leave campaign, including the idea that the argument being sold to the British people is not what the British people are going to get, and on two fronts: first, the question of immigration; and second, the economic question.
I will leave the issue of immigration aside for now as there seems to be suspicion and division within the Leave camp as to what it wants to achieve in negotiations with the EU regarding the opening or closing of the UK border. Suffice it to say, this is a complex issue and the current Schengen crisis is not limited to EU members.
The heart of the Brexit argument, even among Leave campaign leaders, has never been purely economic.
On the economic issue, my ever-incisive AEI colleague James Pethokoukis argues in The Week that the Leave campaign’s portrayal of post-Brexit Britain as a global trading power – a “Texas on the North Sea” in the beautiful expression of Pethokoukis – is “a magical thought.” The deregulation that results from Brexit is not a spell that will magically produce growth, rather Brexit will cause economic hardship or, at the very least, will not provide the added value that makes Brexit worthwhile. Pethokoukis notes that Britain’s economy is already extraordinarily healthy by many measures, and finally speculates that the “pro-growth” policies the Leave campaign is promoting will be less appealing to Britons who voted for Brexit.
I am happy and grateful that Pethokoukis pushed Brexiters to clarify and define their economic plan. There is no doubt that a lot of work will have to be done on this in the months to come. But Pethokoukis’ conclusion – “Never before have we risked so much for potentially so little” – is, in my opinion, out of step with his economic consideration.
The heart of the Brexit argument, even among Leave campaign leaders, has never been purely economic. Nor is the price to pay for staying in the EU. Indeed, Brexit is about the EU’s attempt to transform an economic partnership into a political union. It is precisely the hijacking of a strictly economic partnership that has driven men like Daniel Hannan, whom Pethokoukis cites as a supporter of the “pro-growth” argument, to plead for Britain to leave the EU.
In an op-ed by Hannan of The Evening Standard quoted by Pethokoukis, the Conservative MEP notes that non-EU countries that have trade deals with the EU “thrive while having relations with the EU based on the market access rather than political integration”. It is this, and not pro-growth policies, that is at the center of the argument. Assuming political integration with the EU means acknowledging lawmakers who are not accountable to the votes of ordinary Britons. That means voters can’t hire and fire their lawmakers. In other words, it is a surrender of self-government.
The Founders believed that political independence was worth “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor”.
As Hannan pointed out in a debate that preceded the June 23 vote, the British “wage a civil war…to establish the principle that laws should not be passed nor taxes raised except by our own elected representatives”. Hannan went further: “It is a natural and healthy thing for a democracy to live according to its own laws while trading and cooperating with all the other countries of the world”. That Hannan has to explain this to a country that invented parliamentary democracy and twice saved the free world from destruction at the hands of a continent empire It’s incredible.
We, too, fought a war to establish the principle of self-government. At the start of this war, our Founders wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence, which we will celebrate this weekend. There, the Founders present themselves as English people deprived of their political rights by their British brothers. The Founders believed that political independence was worth “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor”.
If the free self-government, which the British people are also gaining, and which was central to the Leave argument, is worth what the American founders promised themselves, it is worth the economic risks.