Thursday, June 09, 2016

Libertarian position on the EU Referendum

On 23rd June, the UK will vote on whether to remain in or leave the EU.  I'm voting to leave the EU, and believe that, on balance, those who believe in individual liberty including free trade should strongly support leaving the EU.

Bizarrely, Prime Minister David Cameron, having campaigned for a referendum, is now claiming that a vote for the UK to leave would trigger recession, economic catastrophe and even risk future war.  He’s been asked why he bothered putting the UK through such a risk, particularly since only months ago he said the UK would “do ok”.    Now both the Tory Government, most of the Labour Party and virtually all Liberal Democrats, Scottish and Welsh Nationalists and the Greens are all campaigning to remain in the EU, whereas the campaign to leave is led by Boris Johnson,  Michael Gove, nearly half of Conservative MPs, a handful of Labour MPs and UKIP.

The two main planks of the Remain camp are first that leaving the EU Single Market would damage the economy, and they cite many economists, the IMF, World Bank and OECD who all support this, along with some major business leaders and companies.  The second claim is that leaving the EU “lessens Britain” and isolates it, and means the UK loses influence. 

The Leave campaign has a few key messages.  One is that it will save £350m a week from not contributing to the EU (although that excludes receipts from EU programmes to the UK and Thatcher’s rebate, which could be removed at any time).  Secondly, is that leaving the EU will return sovereignty to the British Government, rather than the EU, which passes laws, even if all British MEPs oppose them, imposing them on the UK.  Thirdly, is concern that immigration cannot be effectively controlled whilst there is free movement and full rights for all EU citizens to reside in the UK.

For a libertarian, the EU referendum does mean a trade off.   Indeed, the only two elements of the EU that are pro-freedom are the single market and free movement of people.

EU Membership does provide a single market of over 550 million people, for goods if not for services.  However, it is a customs union that is highly protectionist, and has for decades been one of the biggest objectors to global free trade in agriculture and in many services at the WTO, particularly because France is consistently resistant to trade liberalisation.   Much is made of the EU signing “trade deals” with other countries, but it rarely includes services and never includes agriculture.   Nick Clegg likes to describe the many years and reams of paper needed for the EU to reach trade agreements with the likes of Canada, as if this is the norm (and a burden the UK would have to bear with other countries if outside the EU).  Yet this is quite unnecessary.  New Zealand and Australia agreed on free trade (CER) in less than four years, with a relatively simple agreement.  The only reason free trade agreements become complex is when one of the parties wants exemptions – not actually wanting free trade. 

The second libertarian element of the EU is the free movement of people.  The ability to cross borders virtually unimpeded is of significant value, but it is unconditional.  No EU Member states have the ability to shut out other EU citizens if they have been convicted of any serious offences.   I am not from the camp that believes that free movement within the EU is inherently bad, but I do believe countries should be able to exclude foreign nationals who are proven violent criminals.  The UK's immigration problems are in part, its own fault.  Its health system is the world's biggest civilian bureaucracy that makes feeble attempts to restrict non-national usage and asks nothing of users in terms of financial contributions.  Anyone with legal residency in the UK has access to the welfare state (including generous tax credits for low income workers and child benefits), to taxpayer funded education for their children and access to publicly subsidised housing (indeed there is a "legal right" to housing in the UK, paid for by others).   

In short, the UK has a welfare state edifice that is attractive to migrants with low skills, especially coming from much poorer countries with inferior health, education and housing provision.   If it wants to reduce immigration, it ought to look in the mirror.

Furthermore, as journalist Rod Liddle said at a Spectator hosted event on June 13th, eastern Europeans don't pose an existential threat to western civilisation or to the values of individual freedom that give cause to be concerned about Islamism.  As much as some are concerned about Polish migration to Britain, they integrate, they embrace the values of a developed Western liberal democracy, they set up businesses, they are not demanding media not offend them with threats of violence. Notwithstanding the distortions caused by the UK's wider welfare state, I am not concerned about migration from eastern European, as long as prudent measures are made to exclude convicted violent criminals.

However, the freedom of movement and freedom of trade within the single market do not, for me, outweigh what's wrong with the EU:

- It is a massive exercise in regulation and legal control on almost all areas of the economy.  The EU has over 10,000 Directives on anything from standards for fruit and vegetables, to blowtorches, to light bulbs, to employment.  It is a huge corporatist system that imposes major compliance costs on businesses, restricting new entry and restraining innovation.  Most explicitly, the EU has prohibited the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, ensuring that research and development of GM technology outside laboratories is based in the US and Asia, not Europe.

- Its budget is dominated by the protectionist racket known as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  The CAP inflates the price of food for Europeans by heavily restricting imports from more efficient producers from many countries, including New Zealand, and subsidises overproduction in Europe which is then exported undermining market prices in other countries including poor producers in developing countries.  The CAP impoverishes farmers in poor countries, whilst the EU engages in pious virtue signalling about how much it cares about inequality.  The CAP itself isn't even equal in Europe, as it would have gone bankrupt had eastern European producers been subsidised at the same rates as those in western Europe, so perversely farmers in the EU's poorest countries (e.g. Bulgaria) receive subsidies one-third lower than those in its richest countries (e.g. Luxembourg).

- The EU takes £10 billion a year of British taxpayers' money more than it returns (and most of what it returns is to prop up farmers, to fund research projects or pious regional development projects).  That is money currently borrowed from future taxpayers.  It should end to help balance the budget.  The ludicrous idea that this is the "price for accessing the single market" is absurd.  Free trade does not need to be accompanied by massive subsidy schemes for small parts of the EU economy or politically motivated infrastructure, research or vanity projects (such as Galileo - the EU's complete duplication of the US GPS system, under the nonsensical basis that the US might "shut it down one day").  Furthermore, the majority of EU Member States are not net contributors, and until the past three years neither was France (primarily because it takes so much back in subsidies to prop up its 19th century farming sector).

- The EU is fundamentally authoritarian in instinct, having contempt for the democratically expressed choices of EU Member State voters (the EU President recently said that certain political parties would "not be allowed" to have power if they won elections in EU Member States, such as the Freedom Party in Austria).  The EU's utter failure to provide any discipline on spending in some Euro-member states and contempt for popular revolt at the resulting economic collapse reflects its distance from the concerns of Europeans.  Notably, it has taken few steps to address Hungary's creeping authoritarianism as its government subverts much of its media to support its own propaganda.

- Members of the European Parliament have no powers at all to introduce new legislation including legislation to abolish existing Directives.  Only the European Council can introduce draft legislation into the European Parliament, and the Council is comprised of people appointed by Member State Governments.  The closest the EU gets to accountability is that MEPs can vote to oppose the passage of draft directives, but none can propose their own new legislation.

- The European Commission budget has been found to be materially in error every year for the past 18 years, most recently by 3.9%, or around €5 billion.  This is in part because of the complexities of its spending programs there is considerable scope for fraud and mistake.  Never mind, the EU just keeps asking for more money.

- The EU never cuts its budget, ever.  Every year it asks for more and more, it never ceases to undertake any functions, it never seeks to hand back powers to Member States.  It grows inexorably.  Ten years ago it didn't have a common Foreign Policy, it is now discussing haviuniong an EU Army.  Bear in mind this growth continues in spite of it telling the likes of Greece and Spain that they need to cut spending to balance their budgets.

- The EU falsely claims it is responsible for peace in Europe amongst its Member States, ignoring not only the role of NATO in deterring war with the Soviet Union, but also the more fundamental principle that liberal democracies don't go to war with each other.  The EU got in the way of addressing the war in the Balkans in the 1990s as it opposed letting the Bosnian Muslims arm themselves to respond to the Serbian ultra-nationalist genocide being led by Radovan Karadzic, it has been divided over Ukraine.

- The EU attracts mediocre political appointees to have considerable power over us all.  The UK supplied the second Foreign Minister, Catherine Ashton, a Labour Party member, unionist and former peer (i.e. never elected) who had no foreign policy background.  Failed UK Labour Leader Neil Kinnock built a long career for himself and his family in the EU.  

- The EU has attacked free speech by requiring Google to remove content from searches that EU citizens specifically request as being the "right to be forgotten" .  More recently it has sought to have a common approach to "hate speech", including a call to restrict "disrespectful public discourse".  Fuck off you arseholes.

- The EU project's ultimate end game is a European superstate with power over taxation, national budgets and a massive programme to "harmonise" the regulation of all industries and sectors as one.  This superstate will not be interested in reducing what it does, granting more freedoms to its citizens and reducing its burden on taxpayers, rather the contrary.

Supporters of the Vote Leave campaign have produced this movie below, which is being freely distributed.




I have already cast my postal vote to leave and no, I don't take the views of President Obama, John Key, the IMF, World Bank,  UN Secretary General or others into account.  I don't expect any government or any international organisation to risk their own trade and relationships with the world's largest economy (the EU) by supporting the UK leaving.   Most bizarrely, it is odd that President Obama would ask the UK to stay in a political union that the US itself would never bind itself to even if it could, given the US itself refuses to sign up to many international treaties because it doesn't want its sovereignty restrained.

However, let's be very clear what leaving the UK does not mean:

The campaign to leave the EU is not led by those who want the UK to be isolated and protectionist: Unlike the opposition to the UK's original EEC Membership in 1975, those who lead the campaign to leave the EU now are not primarily socialists who feel threatened by foreign competition.  They are advocates of free and open trade with the rest of the world.   They are dominated by concerns that UK's national sovereignty is eroded by the EU and that the EU is wasteful, sclerotic, inefficient and dismissive of individual freedoms and people's concerns about it.

Leaving the EU is not "ending co-operation": Over 160 countries in the world co-operate on a vast number of matters.   Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are not in the EU, all trade freely with it and work with it and each other and other states, without being tied to the EU project.

Leaving the EU is not racist:  By illiberal-leftwing standards, the EU itself may be deemed racist with its trade policy that harnesses protectionism and European taxpayers' money to harm producers in developing countries.  Those advocating for Brexit want an immigration policy that does not favour EU citizens from non-EU citizens, which would appear to be anything but racist.

Leaving the EU is not "leaving" or "turning our back on Europe":  The EU is not Europe, it is a political-customs union project.  The UK has been at the heart of advocating values of freedom, civil liberties, liberal democracy, rule of law and separation of powers in Europe for much longer than any other countries in Europe.  It is understandable why some countries with recent totalitarian pasts would see the EU as a project that may enable them to move on from unspeakable horrors and oppression, but the UK does not have such a path.  UK outside the EU would trade, travel and work closely with European countries, with continued migration and investment, it simply wouldn't be shackled to how the EU wants Europeans to interact.

Leaving the EU is not seeking a return to a "golden age": Far from it, it is seeking to regain full sovereignty over UK laws to create a more dynamic, outward looking Britain that isn't dependent on the EU for freer trade with the rest of the world.  No one harks back to Empire, some say Brexit will enable trading relationship with the Commonwealth to be revitalised, but few see a future of self-sufficiency and exclusion.

So I have voted to Leave.  I know if it happens, the pound will drop, the FTSE100 will drop and there will be panic.  I also know that there are strong calls for Brexit to mean a significant toughening of immigration policy, which I largely oppose.  I also know there is chance the UK will be blocked from the single market for some time, as the EU and major EU Member States seek to punish the UK for leaving, rather than look at themselves as to why that might be.

However, I am also hopeful and optimistic that the world's 5th largest economy can be more outward looking, can liberalise its economy, can reprioritise its net contribution to the EU by cutting its budget deficit and replacing the subsidy programmes it receives now and phase them out.  I am hopeful that the UK can show the EU that it should be more dynamic, open and prosperous, stimulating the sort of reforms EU Member States desperately need.  I am also hopeful that the charlatan, the PR spin doctor Prime Minister, David Cameron, can finally retire, and the UK can have a government that doesn't look like the Labour Party stayed in power after 2010.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a great movie. Some sites are saying that Leave must make its case but have failed to do so. I think that this movie makes the case in spafes!
Regards
Jeremy Laurenson

paul scott said...

I will try to come back with references. This is a non binding vote. There is big talk that there will be shuffling of feet till they get rid of Cameron. It apparently takes an Act of Parliament to get out ,