Emily Skarbek  

Arguments from the Exit Side of Brexit

An Economist's Case for a Non-... To Vote or Not to Vote?...

My sense is that most of the coverage of Brexit in the US comes down in favour of remaining in the EU. That is the case put forward in Dalibor Rohac's new book. And for onlookers, I think it is easy to dismiss the exit position when it brings out anti-immigration and nationalistic arguments (of which I have zero sympathy).

Brexit resized.png

In the spirit of considered opinion, I thought I would draw reader's attention to three other pieces on the exit arguments that may be of interest. First, Brexit the Movie hit London's red carpet last week (you can watch it free on Youtube). Second, Tyrone's argument based on a zero social rate of discount. Third, a FT piece on a new book by Daniel Hannan - Britain's representative in Brussels for 17 years - Why Vote Leave.

What all three of these have in common are arguments regarding Britain's sovereignty, evolved political institutions, decentralization, and hope for the case for free trade to win out in the medium to long-run. Interestingly, these arguments side with Scott that now is the time to stand up for globalization, liberalization and openness, but view an exit vote as the best means for achieving roughly the same ends.

(An anecdotal side note, German friends at the pub this weekend echoed Scott's concern for what exit would mean for fiscal pressures and liberal principles within the EU.)

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Market Fiscalist writes:

Thanks for posting this !

I am a Brit of libertarian leanings who has lived in the US for a long time , and has tended to oppose Brexit on the grounds that , while the EU may add layers of bureaucracy to government , those who support Brexit were mostly UKIP types who were against the EU for the wrong reasons.

Your post and the video you links to has made me re-think that.

jon writes:


I think it is easy to dismiss the exit position when it brings out ... nationalistic arguments (of which I have zero sympathy).

And this:
What all three of these have in common are arguments regarding Britain's sovereignty

Seem to be in contradiction, no?

Daniel Klein writes:

I'm a classical liberal American in Sweden. It seems the classical liberals here oppose Brexit, for reasons like the Germans you speak of.

Maybe Brexit will induce Germans, Swedes, etc. to firm up their sorry liberal backbone?

Social democratic feel-good statism is the establishment. Maybe Brexit will help a real reconsideration of leftist-statist politics?

Maybe Britain can actually once again lead the world in a liberal vision?

Questions, questions, I don't pretend to know the answers...

Michael Savage writes:

I don't think sufficient weight has been given to the undemocratic nature of the EU. It's one thing for politicians to hand over responsibility for narrowly defined areas like rate setting, subject to politically determined objectives. It's another for a law-generating bureaucracy to exist independent of effective democratic control. The bureaucracy has its own interests, which may or may not coincide with liberal ideas at any point in time. But it is always vulnerable to backlash, because it lacks popular legitimacy. I know that national polities have same problem, but it is more existential with the EU. You can't embed free markets secretly through the EU without winning arguments with the polity.

NL7 writes:

My impression is that lots of euroskeptics consider the EU excessively pro market, rather than insufficiently so. For many, the most visceral objection to the EU is against open markets and free movement.

As an ancap, I have no particular loyalty to the EU or any other political arrangement. But I'm not sure if the euroskeptic movement is a particularly positive direction for pro-market politicos, at least to the extent it results in collusion with anti-market nativists.

While Farage suggests the UK could swap out the EU for EFTA or EEA, I'm not sure many of his more nativist supporters and allies really would be satisfied with that. It still requires substantial compliance with the open market rules, including the rules on movement. EFTA members still pass most of the EU rules and laws, and must still pay substantial contributions.

So if it works, the most likely outcome is the UK switches to EEA (or maybe just EFTA with bilateral treaties), pays roughly the same per capita contribution to the EU, adopts most of the same laws (but with reduced influence on their promulgation), accepts most of the same level of migrants, but otherwise more or less goes on as before. Also, they stop electing MEPs, which might reduce EU legitimacy in British eyes.

I worry the main effect of a Brexit vote will not be a substantial rise in economic freedom or of transparent & representative government, but an emboldening of nativist and xenophobic commentary. Switching over to EFTA/EEA doesn't substantially improve the governance of the EU or substantially loosen statist central planning. But the allies and supporters needed to make the switch include people with some noxious viewpoints.

It may be that the only real shift of a successful Brexit is making it more politically acceptable to espouse anti-foreign and anti-market viewpoints, since many skeptics oppose the EU as excessively pro-market and cosmopolitan, rather than insufficiently so.

Shane L writes:

I've been listening to Professor Vernon Bogdanor's lectures at Gresham College on 20th century British politics and the debates around British entry to the EEC are fascinating and revealing. Many on the left were most concerned with the threat to sovereignty and to their plan for the continued movement towards socialism. (Today I see some on the far-left continue to denounce the EU for a perceived neo-liberal free trade agenda.) Leader of the Labour Party Hugh Gateskill called entry to the EEC "the end of a thousand years of history".

Here Prof Bogdanor is, discussing Britain's 1975 referendum on their continued presence in the EEC. Most opponents were "in the Labour party, and on the left". Enoch Powell, most famous now for his opposition to immigration, split with his Conservatives and advocated a vote for Labour because of his opposition to EEC membership. The Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties were against the EEC; today they are in favour.

Here in Ireland there is some concern about the border with Northern Ireland should UK leave the EU. In general I think most people assume they will reject the referendum, and remain within the EU.

Robert writes:

NL7 perfectly describes the reasons I will be voting for the UK to remain in the EU. Arguments about the lack of democratic legitimacy of EU institutions and - less so - about sovereignty are good arguments, but the main animating force of the exit campaign is nativism, xenophobia, and small minded inward looking nastiness. The headlines of some British newspapers recently would not have looked out of place in der Sturmer. A victory for exit will be, and will be understood as, a victory for these people and their world view. They must be defeated.

Christian Moon writes:

So, Robert, you are going to vote against the people you dislike rather than entertaining the more high-minded arguments for Brexit mentioned by the author. This is insightful and honest of you, but is it admirable?

Maybe it's actually not so far from the approach of those xenophobic nativists, for whom the outgroup to which you attribute their dislike is immigrants.

Nastiness indeed.

Luke writes:

The main problem of leaving the EU is leaving also the European Economic Area: no more free movement of persons, goods, services and capital between the EU and the UK. I don't think I need to elaborate on the benefits of free movement of labour/goods&services/capital in this blog. Just a few facts: the EU is the UK largest trading partner; UK goods and services would need to abide by EU rules to be sold there, but with added tariffs and no power to influence those rules; any other arrangement would mean reintroducing free movement and UK contribution to the EU budget – sorry no cherry picking allowed. It should be taken into account also the amount of time and resources that will be required to get a new agreement plus the economic damage due to uncertainty. These are the costs of leaving.

Would the UK outside the EU be more libertarian? I doubt so. First, the Leave Campaign is mainly supported by antilibertarian feelings (no immigration, no competitions from foreign companies). Second, the UK is quite free even within the EU (it’s number 10 in the latest Economic Freedom ranking by the Heritage Foundation, with other EU countries such as Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Finland, Austria and Denmark close by): how much the EU is limiting UK economic freedom? How better can it become outside the EU, considering the first point? I don’t see any clear and large enough economic benefit in the long run – quite the contrary actually. So short term pain, for long term... who knows?

Robert writes:

Christian, thanks for your comments.

"Is it admirable?" Of course not! It's politics, and there is nothing admirable about it. There is however nothing noble in acting to achieve only your first best outcome.

In a making a decision like this you don't get to pick what happens next. What happens after Brexit will be the result of a series of interlocking negotiations (both within the UK, and between the UK and the EU, and both formal and informal) and all parties will be subject to constraints.

It's very easy for the libertarian Brexiters to say that outside the EU, the UK could be an open free trading nation. They are correct, it could be, and I'd sign up for that right now. The problem is that there is next to no support within the UK for such policies, indeed there are a great many people who are implacably opposed to such policies. Rightly, these people get to have a say.

It is a fact that the animating force of the Brexit campaign is opposition to immigration, and that much of this is very nasty - have you seen the headlines about immigrants in papers like The Daily Mail or The Express recently? They are vile in their dehumanisation of immigrants, and they have given cover for a great many people to express some deeply unpleasant views. In the event of a vote for the UK to leave the EU these attitudes will be in the ascendant; I fear they would dominate any discussion of how the UK would look post EU. The damage might take decades to repair.

So when deciding how to vote, I look not at my ideal outcome, but at what the likely outcomes would be, and I look at who is supporting each option and why, and the choice is a very easy one. I want to live in a country that is open, tolerant, free and rich. The EU holds that back in many ways, but when I look at the typical Brexit supporter I see someone who wants my country to be closed and intolerant, and in consequence less free and rich.

But is all that just a post-hoc rationalisation of a gut dislike of my outgroup? Possibly. I freely admit to a burning hatred of the xenophobic nationalists who campaign for Brexit and to contempt for the ignorant uneducated fools who support them. But an argument stands or falls on its own merits, and none of my feelings make me either right or wrong.

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