Sunday, June 19, 2016

United Kingdom Should Leave The European Union

The American media has never been very good at bringing foreign news items to the attention of the American people. It sometimes seems to me that aliens could invade Australia and a massive fireball might destroy a chunk of France on the same day without the slightly mention of either on an American news channel. This year, with media attention fixated on the presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is even worse. This is a shame, because in less than a week, on June 23, we will see perhaps the most important election in the United Kingdom in our lifetimes, as the British people vote in a referendum on whether their country should remain in the European Union or withdraw from it. The two opposing camps, understandingly, have been designated "Leave" and "Remain".

I am neither British nor European, so perhaps I have no business stating my opinion about this referendum. But the fact that Britons and Europeans aren't Americans doesn't stop them from forthrightly expressing their opinions about our politics. Besides, I have close ties with Britain and studied there during my university days. I see no reason why I shouldn't state my opinion on this question, even if it only impacts me indirectly. So, here goes.

I believe that the United Kingdom should vote to leave the European Union.

The United Kingdom, the union of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, stands proudly as one of the greatest and most successful political entities that has ever existed. For its size, its positive impact on the rest of the world has simply been astounding. All over the world, nations use British-inspired political systems, economic systems, legal systems, and educational systems. British writers, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers rank among the most important that have ever lived. For an island nation with a comparatively small proportion of the world's population, there is no doubt that Britain has had a greater positive impact than any other nation in history.

Moreover, while their history is by no means unblemished, the British have long been a force for the expansion of liberty. From the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, through the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and on into the 20th Century, the story of British history has been the gradual expansion of freedom. British thinkers such as John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Francis Hutcheson, and many others, have laid the foundations for the political ideals of liberty that today dominate global thought. It was British soldiers and sailors who brought down tyrants as diverse as Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Adolf Hitler. Britain also played crucial role in the containment and collapse of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The men flying the Spitfires and Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain in 1940 were, as Winston Churchill well realized, fighting for the freedom of the whole human race.

If the British people vote to remain in the European Union, they will essentially be voting to turn their backs on this glorious history. For as Europe gradually centralizes from a loose confederation into a more unified federation in the coming years, the members will inevitably lose their national sovereignty, which will drain away like water emptying out of a tub. Unless it votes to leave, the United Kingdom must eventually shrink into being simply a large region of a European super-state, at best being on the level of one of the larger of the fifty American states.

On the other hand, if the European project crashes and burns, then it would make sense for Britain to get off the sinking ship while it still has a chance, rather than go down with it. The events of recent years, with the euro currency all but collapsing, nations losing control of their own borders in the face of a mass refugee crisis, unemployment in many member states reaching terrifying proportions, and bailout after bailout being required to secure the finances of the less fiscally responsible states. The EU bureaucracy in Brussels has proven wholly incapable of dealing with these problems, which seem likely to get worse rather than better. Moreover, the EU has proven wholly incapable of dealing with foreign policy crises, ranging from serious ones like the breakup of Yugoslavia and the continued division of Cyprus to minor ones like a dispute between Spain and Morocco over an uninhabited rock. Setting all other arguments aside, perhaps it's best for Britain to get out of the EU while it still can, rather than remaining chained to it as it falls apart.

The Remain camp has focused like a laser beam on building an economic case for Britain to vote to stay in the EU. If the United Kingdom leaves the EU, it will lose preferential access to the Common Market and will have to renegotiate its trading relationship. Well, so what? Neither Norway or Switzerland are members of the EU and they have negotiated quite happy terms of their trading relationship with the European bloc. So, for that matter, have many others among the major economies in the world. Negotiating a new trade deal between the UK and the EU will take some time, just as it will take time to unwind and reframe other aspects of Britain's relationship with its European neighbors. Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon specifies a two-year process for withdrawal, during which time trade matters will be dealt with properly. Britain is the world's fifth largest economy. It's not like the EU is going to ignore its existence when it is no longer a member. Renegotiating a trade agreement will be in the best interests of everyone. Since Britain is already in complication with EU rules and regulations, it can choose for itself which to retain and which to discard if the Leave vote wins.

Moreover, leaving the EU will allow Britain to make its own trade agreements with other nations in whatever way it sees fit. It's rather astonishing to reflect on the fact that Britain does not have comprehensive and binding trade deals with the United States, China, and India. As a member of the EU, the United Kingdom has not been allowed to negotiate its own trade agreements with non-EU nations, which has often meant that British trade has suffered due to the concerns of other constituencies. As a single example, efforts to establish a free trade agreement between the EU and Australia (a country much more like Britain than any member of the EU)  have been stymied by a dispute over Italian tomatoes. Leaving the EU will free Britain from such concerns, allowing it to negotiate its own trade agreements in whatever way it sees fit.

There has been a lot of back-and-forth between the Remain and Leave campaigns regarding how EU funding would be affected by a Leave vote. The Leave has oft-repeated a figure of 350 million pounds a week, or more than 18 billion pounds per year, which would be the equivalent of 25 billion dollars per year. Now, clearly, Britain gets a chunk of that money back in various forms as EU institutions allocate funds to Britain just as they do to every other member state, such as farm subsidies and research grants. But even the Remain camp acknowledges that Britain as a net loser as far as money is concerned. And the British government, if it wished to do so, could pay for these programs itself using the money saved from no longer paying into the EU budget.

And that goes to the heart of the matter. All the nitty-gritty details of trade deals and research grants pale when set against the overriding question: does the United Kingdom wish to govern itself or does it wish to be governed by others? Does do the British people want their laws made by their own elected representatives or do they want them being made by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels?

This is no mere philosophical question. Perhaps half of all the legislation and regulations British citizens are legally required to follow come not from the House of Commons, or the devolved local administrations, but from EU rules emanating from Brussels. Elected members of Parliament have no say in what these rules and regulations are and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the British government to negotiate opt-out agreements regarding those elements of EU law and regulation that it does not wish to see incorporated in its territory. It seems that every year, as Germany and other EU states push for increasing integration, the British are dragged along against their will, slowly and incrementally becoming just a sub-region of a larger European superstate.

It was not supposed to be like this. When Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community in the early 1970s, it was sold to the British people as a free trade zone and customs union. Now, having had the wool pulled over their eyes, the British people find themselves ironically in the same position as the American colonists before the Revolutionary War: not in control of their own destinies and having the law made from them by people far away, whom they have not elected and over whom they have no influence. Ironically enough, if one wanted the clearest explanation for why Britain should leave the EU, all they need to do is read A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1774.

By freeing itself from the EU, the United Kingdom would be able to reforge the "special relationship" with the United States, which has long been a linchpin of global security and which has frankly suffered a bit in recent years. It will be able to reestablish stronger ties with the rest of the "Anglosphere" - Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - which have been neglected since Britain's accession to the EEC in 1973. Britain, after all, has more in common with the nations of the Anglosphere than it does with any member of the European Union. It might even seek to revitalize the Commonwealth of Nations, which has become little more than a friendly club since Britain first joined the EEC. In any case, Britain would be freed to pursue its own foreign policy, building its own political and economic relationships both in Europe and outside of it, which it currently cannot do.

Some Remain proponents have argued that the European Union has been instrumental in the preservation of peace in Europe since the Second World War. Leave proponents counter that it was NATO, and especially the involvement of the United States in the alliance, that actually preserved peace. Both have solid points on this score. The Leave proponents are correct in asserting that it was NATO, and not the EU, which deterred Russia (in the guise of the Soviet Union) from attempting to dominate Europe between the 1940s and 1980s. But the Remain proponents are also largely correct, for it was the Franco-German rapprochement which secured the peace of Europe and which today forms the foundation of the European project. But this would remain true whether or not Britain is a member of the EU. I am, personally, a supporter of the European project, who happens to believe that the United Kingdom does not fit into it. The British have steadfastly resisted the move towards greater centralization, and continually refused to adopt toe euro currency, and thereby have encouraged given encouragement to Euroskeptics in many other EU member states. If the other members of the EU genuinely want to pursue the quest for an "ever greater union", then perhaps they should happily wave goodbye to the United Kingdom if it votes to leave later this week.

The irony is that, at least since the 16th Century, the cornerstone of British foreign policy has been the preservation of its independence from whatever happens to be the most powerful state on the Continent at that time, be it Spain, France, Germany, or Russia. When we recall the Royal Navy defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588 and winning the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, or the British Army battling against Louis XIV at Blenheim in 1704 and Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, or the Royal Air Force fending off Hitler's Luftwaffe in 1940, we are recalling Britain defending its sovereignty against Continental powers. Yet since the 1970s, the United Kingdom has meekly been surrendering its independence to an army of Brussels bureaucrats, who might be well-meaning but whose ultimate aims still spell the end of the United Kingdom as we know it. Now, the British have a chance to win their sovereignty back. And it might be their last chance.

I hope that the British people vote Leave on June 23.

(Note: It is disappointing to see that the tone of the debate in Britain on this critical question has become so inflammatory and visceral. Remain supporters routinely accuse Leave supporters of racism, while Leave supporters not so subtly accuse Remain supporters of being traitors to Britain. Indeed, some of this overheated rhetoric might have encouraged the brutal murder of Jo Cox, MP, a Remain supporter, last week, although the suspect also appears to suffer from mental illness. On such an important issue as this, the campaigns should be conducted with reason and rationality and not by appealing to the baser elements of human nature.)

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