Flat White

The six best reasons to vote Leave

11 June 2016

8:00 AM

11 June 2016

8:00 AM

For me, as for so many people, it’s a heart versus head issue. I’m emotionally drawn to Europe. I speak French and Spanish and have lived and worked all over the Continent. I’ve made many friends among the Brussels functionaries. Lots of them, naturally, are committed Euro-federalists. Yet they are also decent neighbours, loyal companions and generous hosts. I feel twinges of unease about disappointing them, especially the anglophiles. But, in the end, the head must rule the heart.

Remainers often tell us to think of our children, and I’m doing precisely that. I am thinking, not just about the EU as it is now, but about the diminished role that a surly, introverted Europe will have in their lifetime. And that makes my decision very easy.

1. ‘We need to co-operate with our neighbours,’ say Remainers, as if someone somewhere were objecting to the idea. Were the EU simply a common market, a regional bloc like Nafta or Asean, no one would have a problem with it. What makes the EU different from every other international association is that it legislates for its members. In any conflict between a parliamentary statute and the ruling of a Brussels institution, the latter takes precedence. This legal supremacy, which was not challenged during the renegotiation, is the basis for the political merger of the member states. The EU has acquired, one by one, the attributes and trappings of nationhood: a president and a foreign minister, citizenship and a passport, treaty-making powers, a criminal justice system, a written constitution, a flag and a national anthem. It is these things that Leavers object to, not the commerce and co-operation that we would continue to enjoy, as every neighbouring country does.

2. The EU is not a free-trade area; it is a customs union. The difference may seem technical, but it goes to the heart of the decision we face. Free-trade areas remove barriers between members and, economists agree, tend to make participants wealthier. Customs unions, by contrast, erect a common tariff wall around their members, who surrender the right to strike individual trade deals. From the start, the EEC prioritised politics over economics and opted for a customs union as the means to a political union.

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Britain is one of only two of 28 member states that sell more to the rest of the world than to the EU. We have always been especially badly penalised by the EU’s Common External Tariff. Unlike Switzerland, which enjoys free trade with the EU at the same time as striking agreements with China and other growing economies, we must contract out our trade policy to a European commissioner — at present, as it happens, a former sociology lecturer from Sweden.

We have (because the EU has) no trade agreements with China, India or most other Commonwealth countries. EU–Australia talks are being held up by a dispute over Italian tomatoes. Even the EU-Canada deal, which everyone thought was agreed, now risks being vetoed by Romania because of an unrelated row about visas for Romanians wishing to enter Canada. It’s a costly failure. In 2006, the EU was taking 55 per cent of our exports; last year, it was down to 45 per cent. What will it be in 2030 — or 2050?

3. We can hardly accuse Eurocrats of being shy about their plans. The Five Presidents’ Report sets out a plan for the amalgamation of fiscal and economic policies — a process that can only take place among the 28 states as a whole, since there is no legal mechanism for eurozone-only integration. The Belgian commissioner Marianne Thyssen has a plan for what she calls ‘social union’ — i.e. harmonisation of welfare systems. Jean-Claude Juncker wants a European army, which the Commission describes as ‘a strategic necessity’. These are not the musings of outlandish federalist think tanks: they are formal policy statements by the people who run Brussels.

The EU, in short, is responding to the euro and migration crises in the way it responds to everything: with deeper integration. Because Britain kept its currency and its passport checks, we have other options.

4. When Britain joined in 1973, the states that now make up the EU accounted for 36 per cent of the world economy. Last year, it was 17 per cent. Obviously, developing economies grow faster than advanced ones, but the EU has also been comprehensively outperformed by the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It’s not hard to see why: Brussels is more concerned with keeping the euro together as a means to political integration than in the welfare of the poor wretches who have to use it.

Back in the 1970s, western Europe seemed more modern and prosperous than Britain. Does it seem that way now? In an age of Skype and cheap flights, why should we allow accident of geography to trump ties of language and law, custom and kinship? Why tie ourselves to the world’s slowest-growing continent?

5. ‘Ooh, so you want us to be like Switzerland or Norway, do you?’ say Remainers. No: we can get a better deal than either. We are 65 million people to Switzerland’s eight million and Norway’s five million; on the day we left, we’d become the EU’s single biggest export market.

Still, it’s worth noting that Norway and Switzerland come first and second in the Legatum Prosperity Index and that their voters oppose EU membership by, respectively, 79 per cent and 82 per cent. They trade freely with the EU, while being exempt from (in Norway’s case) most or (in Switzerland’s) all its legal acts. They do pay Brussels, but less than we do per capita — far less, in Switzerland’s case. And, as well as the freedom to sign trade deals with overseas markets (they signed one with the Philippines last month, after just ten months of talks), they are self-governing democracies. The fact that they all have their own particular deals with Brussels shows how silly it is to expect us precisely to mimic someone else’s: we’d get our own deal, tailored to our own conditions. And thrive with a trade-based relationship with the EU.

6. A Remain vote will be seen in Brussels as a capitulation. Look at it from the point of view of a Euro-federalist. Britain would have demanded trivial reforms, failed to secure even those, and then voted to stay in on unchanged terms. After decades of growling and snarling, the bulldog would have rolled over and whimpered.

A number of plans have been postponed in Brussels pending our vote: the ban on powerful electrical appliances; licensing rules that will decimate London’s art market; the Ports Services Directive, which was opposed by every commercial port in Britain, every trade union and (for what it’s worth) every British MEP. But that secured a majority anyway, only to be deferred at the last moment until after our referendum.

But that’s just the start. With the possibility of Brexit off the table, there will be a renewed push to integration, on everything from migrant quotas to a higher EU budget.

There are some British voters who are happy with the idea of a federal Europe. Fair enough: if you’re in that category, vote Remain. But don’t imagine that you can cast a qualified Remain vote: your ballot will be taken in Brussels as a mandate for full-on integration. As I say, if you like that idea, fine. But, please, don’t be bullied out of following your conscience. We’re the fifth largest economy in the world, the second disseminator of soft power, one of five permanent seat-holders on the UN Security Council. We export tea to China, naan bread to India, kayaks to the Inuit. We have created more jobs in the past five years than the other 27 states put together. How much bigger do we have to be, for heaven’s sake, before we can prosper under our own laws?

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Matthew Parris responds

If you believe that the EU is a vast conspiracy to turn itself into a federal superstate, then you will hear in every passing breeze the whisper of an advancing imperium. I don’t. And I simply don’t share the Leave side’s confidence that there is a world outside waiting to strike trading deals with Britain more generous than they’ve accorded the EU. As for the social union and the new army, all kinds of individuals within the EU have all kinds of hopes and dreams. It is not true that these are ‘formal policy statements by the people who run Brussels’. They are getting nowhere with most of this, and could not anyway force us to join in.

On trade, I’m no economist, but I think the remark ‘the EU’s economy is in relative collapse’ is explained by the remark that ‘the Chinese and Indian economies have doubled in size’. It is true that North America is doing better, but not much. It’s little help going on about New Zealand (a tiny economy) and Australia (whose wealth is hugely dependent on mining). The old (white) Commonwealth has a place in all our hearts, I think, but the head counsels caution. The wealth of Norway and Switzerland may have something to do with (in one case) vast reserves of oil, and, in the other, a borderline-gangster banking system.

As for trading with the world, nobody is stopping us exporting kayaks to the Inuit. Britain’s jobs expansion has been achieved from inside the EU. And as for following our ‘consciences’, please don’t appropriate such language to your own side alone. There are consciences on both sides.


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