Apparently, when asked if Ringo Starr is the best drummer in the world, John Lennon quipped, “Ringo isn’t the best drummer in the world. He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.” And while Lennon may have fancied himself a better singer, guitarist, songwriter, and drummer, than Ringo, the Beatles are still better off with Ringo at the drums.
The essence of comparative advantage is that you don’t need to possess a great talent to benefit from trade within a group, whether we are talking about individual people or nations. So long as there exists some variation in relative talents, people will be able to benefit from specialization and trade.
This message is as relevant as ever. The British Parliament has just voted to hold fresh elections. This is supposedly to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand when negotiating new terms of trade when Britain leaves the European Union. Politicians act as if trade is dangerous, always a threat to the national interest unless carefully constrained. They negotiate complex deals and regulation on market access, essentially holding their own consumers hostage, preventing them from buying foreign goods unless other countries agree to open their own markets. They fear that their domestic producers will be out-competed by superior, or cut-priced, businesses from abroad.
What comparative advantage shows is that even if that happened to be true for every single industry, domestic businesses could still specialize so as to be competitive on the world market, and improve domestic living standards at the same time. Britain could open its ports and wallets to foreign goods and services with no tariffs, even without any reciprocal deal from the EU, and yet still benefit from trade.
Why? Because it doesn’t matter if you have to be the drummer, just so long as you are in the band.
I was living in the United Kingdom when we voted for Brexit (I was a soft remainer). I was living in the United States when Trump won the election. So I can’t help but feel that Trump’s inauguration is part of a generalised nationalist turn that, ironically, transcends national borders. Why is this nationalist turn happening? And why has it wrong-footed pollsters and political scientists more than once now?
We are repeatedly, and correctly, warned not to over-interpret individual events as somehow determined by given factors. Both the Brexit vote and the presidential election were close, with Trump taking the electoral college without the popular vote. One domino that didn’t fall last year was the Austrian presidency that, after a close call, went to a Green rather than a Nationalist. So whatever explanation we are looking for has to be a tendency that’s slightly shifted the odds in favour of nationalist politicians without the experts being able to anticipate it in advance.
Some suggest that this resurgent economic nationalism is an inevitable outcome of the overreach of trade liberalisation that has undermined national self-determination and humiliated local cultures. Others argue that the real cause is growing income and wealth inequality. I think a potentially more straightforward factor is demography. The electorate is simply older than it used to be.
There are a few reasons why this explanation may work better than the more popular ones. The ageing electorate is almost unprecedented in history. This could make it harder for political scientists to predict its impact on elections. Surveys might be able to tell us how older people vote as individuals without being able to work out how older people surrounded, in addition, by lots of older peers will behave.
Countries like Italy and Japan were somewhat ahead of us on this demographic transition. And perhaps not entirely coincidentally, Italy repeatedly elected a mini-Trump, Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister, while continuing to support the elderly at the expense of opportunities for the young. Meanwhile, Japan has always been more ethno-nationalist than other developed economies and in some ways has grown more politically reactionary in recent decades.
This explanation chimes with the fact that Trump voters were not typically economically disadvantaged. They were older and less educated but typically economically secure. Age was also a big factor explaining support for Brexit. At the same time, an ageing population presents real economic challenges that translate into politically salient problems. Demography is probably responsible for a great deal of the sustained drop in real interest rates, precisely the sort of thing that worries ageing savers with slowly growing pension pots.
Trump wants to boost infrastructure, construction and manufacturing. But these sectors do best with young and growing populations, where families want new and bigger houses and offices, roads to connect them and cars to drive to and from them. What happens when everyone already has a great deal of material goods and a country hasn’t got as many young adults to demand new stuff? Inevitably, an economy’s trend growth declines and may even contract, leaving investors with fewer places to get a good return.
What could this mean about the future? On the one hand, this could be quite a pessimistic explanation. There is very little that can be done in the short or medium term about the demographics of an electorate. So we might just be in for a more reactionary period. The vote is not about strength of belief, just the sheer numbers nudged in that direction, and that is what age can do.
On the other, this could be an optimistic hypothesis. The situation we find ourselves in is a side-effect of two generally attractive outcomes: people living much longer, and lower fertility thanks to women becoming more educated. The balance between the young and the elderly might eventually improve once the demographic bulge of the baby boomers has passed into history (this depends critically on whether institutions permit new family formation). In addition, tomorrow’s elderly are not the same as today’s elderly. They will probably be more educated, less nationalist and possibly less subject to cognitive decline than the current generation. They are less likely to be impressed by a bad sales pitch.
The UK referendum vote to leave the European Union is not producing the consequences its most eloquent supporters and ideologues had predicted. It is of course very early to have a complete view of the consequences of Brexit, but a large part of Brexit journalistic, campaigning and intellectual elite have argued for leaving the EU on the grounds it would enable a mıore free market UK, one less burdened by regulations ‘imposed’ from Brussels.
A disproportionate part of this elite claims to be libertarian or conservative libertarian, operating in party politics via the Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party and operating in libertarian to conservative campaigning groups. Employees of the most important classical liberal and libertarian policy institutions, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute were divided on this issue. However, some part of the Brexit elites were High Tory, that is traditionalist conservative.
The insistence on sovereignty and national institutions outweighs a commitment to free markets and individual rights. Immigration in particular comes off badly here. The High Tory narrative dominates the Brexit narrative in practice. Some Brexit enthusiasts welcome the supposed opportunity to boost defence spending (though this has nothing do with the European Union which places no limits whatsoever on national defence spending) and believe Brexit will allow restoring the UK’s Great Power status. This is already very high by general European standards and given the inherent limits of the UK’s resources compared with the USA, Russia and China, it’s hard to see how great power status could be attained and why the UK should try. It is clearly not compatible with retrenchment of the state.
David Cameron announced his resignation as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister straight after the referendum result. His replacement Theresa May began her term of office with a speech suggesting greater state involvement in the economy and society. As Home Secretary she has a particularly illiberal record in civil liberties, immigration and drugs. She has announced support for changes in company law to force firms to accept employee representatives onto boards and restriction on takeover laws.
These measures have led the ‘Red Tory’, Philip Blond, to announce compatibility with his views and enthusiasm for her leadership. Blond runs the policy institute, ResPublica (http://www.respublica.org.uk). He was a colleague of mine in graduate programs at the University of Warwick in the late eighties, though I have not been in touch with him since. He moved from a period of research and university teaching in theology (he was studying European philosophy since the early nineteenth century when I knew him) into the policy world.
The contemporary theologian who influenced him most is John Milbank, an adherent of a version of the Christian tradition which tends to advocate community above individual, or at least would seem to do so if its social philosophy is turned into state enforced actions. There is a strong element of Medieval nostalgia for an organic society in Blond’s social and political thought. He is arguing for less not more free markets and individualism. Now there is no reason to think that Blond’s ideas will have a major influence on May, but if he feels so comfortable with her then that is reason to think there will be strong streak of communalist conservatism in the post-referendum government and even a hint of Christian socialism.
Previous free market advocates, who found it easy to be advocates when the EU served as a scapegoat for any and every overextension of state activity in the UK (whether or not in reality it originated with the EU), have become less clear in their commitment given that some EU support for open markets, such as bans on subsidies to keep bankrupt companies afloat, are no longer available. With some institutional supports for free markets removed, the Brexit liberty advocates find themselves in a world of paying off voters who voted for ‘leave’ because they don’t like ‘neoliberalism’ and blame any difficult consequences of technological invention and market innovation on Brussels Bureaucrats along with immigration from EU countries.
One key theme of the more ostensibly libertarian parts of the ‘leave’ campaign was to argue that they did not want to reduce immigration, but globalise it by replacing automatic rights of EU citizens to live in the UK with an Australian points system, which allows people to enter from anywhere in the world who has sufficient points with regard to educational level, scarce skills, money to invest and so on. However, it is clear that many ‘leave’ voters just want a reduction in immigration and May has distanced herself from a ‘points’ system in favour of absolute reduction.
The ‘leave’ vote won based on the anti-immigration, anti-globalist and anti-‘neoliberal’ instincts of a significant section of the ‘leave’ vote. It is not the whole of the ‘leave’ vote, but ‘leave’ could not have won without it. The evidence so far is that whatever the intentions of the libertarian to conservative element of ‘leave’ thinking that the government is now driven by the wish to follow that aspect of public opinion. The UK is headed towards communalist corporatism, or even protectionist/mercantilist, security-state Great Power nationalist versions of conservatism. Clearly there is much work for liberty advocates to do in the UK counteracting this disaster.
Past Friday, 51.9% of the British have voted to leave the European Union against 48.1% of those who have voted to remain. The details of the EU referendum can be found on BBC’s EU referendum page. Although it is still unclear what shape the relationship between Britain and the EU will take, I expect that the Brexit will offer good economic opportunities for Britain provided that they can reach free trade agreements with all nations within the EU and provided that they will continue to open up their markets for free trade with other countries outside of the EU.
An Exit of the Netherlands, or a Nexit, will have more consequences than a Brexit as the Netherlands are also participants in the European Monetary Union. A Nexit could therefore lead to an end of the Euro. An analysis of the EU is a political analysis and as politics is always complemented by power, this analysis should hence incorporate insights on power struggles and competing visions. Each country has its own interests within the EU, just like any politician within the EU has his own special interests that he is serving. Participation in the EU is often represented as an exercise of solidarity and political appeasement, however it is still politics with politicians’ usual desire for self-enrichment.
There have always been two competing visions of the EU. The first one is a classical liberal vision, led by German speaking Christian democrats Schuman (France), Adenauer (Germany) and Alcide de Gasperi (Italy) with the Treaty of Rome (1957) as the greatest achievement of this classical liberal vision for Europe. The Treaty sought to deliver the following four freedoms: free movement of goods, freedom of movement for workers, the right of establishment and freedom to provide services, and free movement of capital. The other vision was a socialist vision led by mainly French politicians, such as Jacques Delors and François Mitterrand whose goal was to create a supranational state.
Classical liberal vision The first vision promotes political competition between the EU’s member states by opening up borders. When a person is discontent with the excessive taxes in his country, he could leave his country for another. Competition between member states would lead to smaller governments, lower taxes, and political respect for people who would want to pursue their individual freedoms in another member state. It would represent a return to the political model that was prevalent in Europe from the Middle Ages to the 19th century when different political systems coexisted independently. There were independent cities or city states in Flanders, Germany and Northern Italy. There was the kingdom of Bavaria, the republic of Venice, and small city states like Ghent and Bruges embraced their autonomy. The German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) had expressed the beauty of such a political system as follows when he discussed a Germany that was still splintered in 39 independent states:
“I do not fear that Germany will not be united; … she is united, because the German Taler and Groschen have the same value throughout the entire Empire, and because my suitcase can pass through all thirty-six states without being opened. … Germany is united in the areas of weights and measures, trade and migration, and a hundred similar things. … One is mistaken, however, if one thinks that Germany’s unity should be expressed in the form of one large capital city, and that this great city might benefit the masses in the same way that it might benefit the development of a few outstanding individuals. … What makes Germany great is her admirable popular culture, which has penetrated all parts of the Empire evenly. And is it not the many different princely residences from whence this culture springs and which are its bearers and curators? … Germany has twenty universities strewn out across the entire Empire, more than one hundred public libraries, and a similar number of art collections and natural museums; for every prince wanted to attract such beauty and good. Gymnasia, and technical and industrial schools exist in abundance; indeed, there is hardly a German village without its own school. … Furthermore, look at the number of German theaters, which exceeds seventy. … The appreciation of music and song and their performance is nowhere as prevalent as in Germany, … Then think about cities such as Dresden, Munich, Stuttgart, Kassel, Braunschweig, Hannover, and similar ones; think about the energy that these cities represent; think about the effects they have on neighboring provinces, and ask yourself, if all of this would exist, if such cities had not been the residences of princes for a long time. … Frankfurt, Bremen, Hamburg, Lübeck are large and brilliant, and their impact on the prosperity of Germany is incalculable. Yet, would they remain what they are if they were to lose their independence and be incorporated as provincial cities into one great German Empire? I have reason to doubt this.”
In addition to the advancement of political competition, the vision also promotes economic competition. A German employee would not be obstructed from working in France anymore, a Dutchman would not be taxed by the government if he transfers money from a Dutch to a Spanish bank or when he decides to buy stocks on the Italian equity market. Nobody would withhold a Belgian brewery from selling beer in other countries within the European free trade area.
Socialist vision The second vision promotes a European central state that holds the power to enact more regulations, redistribution of wealth, and harmonization of legal systems within the whole Union. A strong central political body is to coordinate such efforts. The consequence is that its member states would increasingly have to give up their sovereignty. This is clearly visible from the political events in Greece and Ireland during the financial crisis of 2008 when Brussels demanded from Greece and Ireland how they should deal with their deficits and what austerity measures they should take. The socialist vision of Europe is an ideal for the political class, bureaucrats, interest groups and the subsidized sectors that want a powerful central state for their self-enrichment. Political competition among its member states, something that the classical liberals supported, should be eliminated. Doing so, Europe becomes less democratic and political power is increasingly shifted into the hands of bureaucrats and technocrats in Brussels. Historically, such plans for concentrated political power had been realized by such figures as Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler. The difference with our times is that the creation of a modern European superstate does not directly require military means. The introduction of new institutes like the European Central Bank, a common currency like the Euro, and extended power of the European Commission would suffice. Similar socialist intentions were already visible from the start of the European integration in the European vision of Jean Monnet, the intellectual father of the European community. Fearing an independent and emerging Germany after the second World War, an integration of Germany into Europe was considered to be a good thing. Next to that, the French wanted to have control over the Rühr area and they wanted to keep other vital German resources out of solely German hands. After losing her colonial powers in Indochina and Africa, the French ruling elite were also looking for new influence and pride which they eventually found in the European community. The French premier in 1950 had for example proposed a plan to install a European army under the leadership of the French.
Why it is good for the Netherlands to leave the European Union I believe that the EU should never have had more ambitions than the free trade zone that requires no supranational institutes, except for a European Court of Justice that is restricted to supervising conflicts between the member states and guaranteeing the four freedoms. The EU has become so far removed from the classical liberal vision of political and economic competition that it is not worthwhile anymore for the Netherlands to participate. It has declined into a malignant cartel of states that can tell its members with whom and how they should conduct their trade. A good example were the quotas and import levies on Chinese solar panels in 2013 under the disguise of ‘anti-dumping’ measures. Several countries like the Netherlands and Germany had first opposed to these measures as they would like to maintain good relationships with China. Nonetheless, the European Committee, apparently under influence of solar panel lobbyists like those of the German producer Solarworld AG, introduced ‘anti-dumping’ measures. The eventual winners of such measures are European solar panel producers and its victims are the European people that simply want to buy cheap solar panels. Another example are the sanctions that the EU had imposed on Russia since the Ukrainian conflict – a conflict that was provoked by American imperialists and NATO. The deteriorating trade relationships between the EU and Russia is also detrimental to the wealth of ordinary European citizens. Another recent example is the prohibition of high-powered vacuum cleaners and possible future bans on other energy appliances such as kettles and hairdryers in order to reach environmental targets. Those who profit from such measures are mainly large legacy organizations such as Bosch and Siemens that have enough capital to meet the strict EU regulations.
Another reason why a Nexit would be good for the Netherlands is that it offers an opportunity to extricate oneself from the Euro and the implicitly pledged financial aid when a future financial crisis will tear through Europe.
The tragedy of the Euro The introduction of the Euro has proven to be a huge mistake, because it has enabled fiscally irresponsible governments of such countries like Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain etc. to conduct unsustainable economic policies. In the past, when these states had their own currency, their governments had to finance their budget deficits through the sales of government bonds which resulted in higher government debts. The higher government debts manifested itself in higher interest rates on their government bonds, and a greater money supply would lead to devaluations of their currencies.
To illustrate how the process of government bonds financing works in the European Monetary Union, we could look at the development of 10-year government bonds. The graph below shows the interest rates that governments have to pay to the financiers of their 10-year government bonds from 1995 to 2011:
The y-axis represents the rates of interest that an investor receives from 10-year government bonds. Countries that are economically stronger and fiscally more conservative are rewarded with lower interest rates due to the smaller risk that these governments will not pay back their loans. In the case of Germany, a country with traditionally a stronger economy, a more conservative Bundesbank, and a fiscally more responsible government than many other European nations, investors received 7.5% interest on their 10-year government bonds in 1995. Greek government bonds had a yield of 18% in 1995. 1995 was the year in which the European Committee had announced that the Euro would arrive in 2002. Interest rates on government bonds consequently converged in the following years. At the end of 1997 all rates of interest on Portuguese, Irish, Spanish, Italian, French and German 10-year government bonds were more or less equal despite the fact that many of the governments of these countries still spent more than they received in tax incomes. The consequence of sharing a common currency with fiscally more responsible countries like Germany and the Netherlands is that fewer price signals in the form of higher interest rates on government bonds of fiscally irresponsible governments emerge. Irresponsible governments can issue government bonds to the banking sector that transfer these bonds as collateral to the ECB in return for loans. The interest rate that banks pay for the loans of the ECB are issued as profits to their governments. This is in short how ‘seigniorage’, the profits derived from money creation when the costs of money production and the distribution of money are lower than the value of money itself, is created.
This process leads to inflation, but the costs of inflation in the EMU are not solely borne by the respective country that issues the government bonds, but by all countries that participate in the EMU. A country like Spain can for example issue government bonds that traditionally would correspond with 10% inflation. However, when other countries like the Netherlands and Germany issue an amount of bonds that corresponds with 5% inflation, Spain benefits from seigniorage as the inflation created by Spain is higher and borne partly by the Netherlands and Germany. A Euro in this regard is beneficial for fiscally irresponsible governments. It is actually a “Tragedy of the commons”. Abusing the Euro in this way is exactly what countries like Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain and France have done. This works until a financial crisis shows how insolvent the governments of these countries actually are. That has happened in 2008, the moment when interest rates on European government bonds started diverging. The ECB had even decided to buy up Greek government debts in May 2010 in order to lower the interest rates on Greek government bonds. In June 2010, a temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) was founded with guarantees of up to €440 billion to combat the European sovereign debt crisis. It has provided financial assistance to Ireland, Portugal and Greece. The EFSF was later replaced by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in October 2012 with a total described capital of around €700 billion of which the Netherlands has pledged €40 billion in capital participation. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, had promised the Dutch in 2011 that the Netherlands would receive back the money it has loaned out to Greece in May 2010. The total sum that was loaned to Greece by the Dutch was €3.2 billion. However, in 2012 when the Netherlands loaned out €14.5 billion of the second financial aid package of €130 billion that was pledged by Europe and the IMF to Greece, the Dutch minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, admitted that the Netherlands were losing money. Rutte also admitted that he could not guarantee that the Dutch loans to the Greeks would not be forgiven. Three years later, on July 13 2015, the Netherlands loaned out another €22.6 billion to Greece. It has become clear that such financial pledges of the Netherlands to fiscally irresponsible governments like that of Greece are not beneficial for the Dutch. Even in the long run it is not beneficial for the EU as it supports and prolongs a socialist European system that is deeply rotten to its core and destined to fail. What the EU needs is a radical return to decentralization and political competition.
The EU has become a sinking ship. It appears to me that the Netherlands should leave the Union as soon as possible. I do not see how Europe can maneuver itself safely through the next financial crisis that is at the point of breaking out as more banks are on the brink of collapse. I also expect greater centralization of political power within the EU and a greater loss of individual member countries’ sovereignty. On June 27, 2016, the Polish media had reported that France and Germany were taking matters into their own hands and are using the Brexit to unveil their plan to morph the continent’s countries into one giant superstate. Under their radical proposals,
“EU countries will lose the right to have their own army, criminal law, taxation system or central bank, with all those powers being transferred to Brussels.”
A sensible Netherlands would leave the European Union and the European Monetary Union in order to preserve political and economic sovereignty. They would have free trade agreements with all countries within and outside of the EU. EenVandaag, a popular Dutch TV programme, had published the results of their 27,000 large online poll on Sunday June 26, 2016 in which 54% of the Dutch would like to hold a referendum about the Netherlands’ participation in the EU. 48% of the poll wanted the Netherlands to leave the EU against 45% who would like to remain in the EU. In the meantime, the Remain camp will continue their nauseating snobbery accusing the Leave camp of being racist, nationalistic, isolationist or simply ignorant.
References Bagus, P. (2010). The Tragedy of the Euro.
Footnotes  From Johann Peter Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe (1836-1848).
 Tony Judt writes in Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2006) that “[U]nhappy and frustrated at being reduced to the least of the great powers, France had embarked upon a novel vocation as the initiator of a new Europe” (p. 153). He also writes that “[F]or Charles de Gaulle, the lesson of the twentieth century was that France could only hope to recover its lost glories by investing in the European project and shaping it into the service of French goals (p. 292).”
 See for example Prof. John McMurtry’s “Ukraine, America’s ‘Lebensraum’. Is Washington prepared to wage war on Russia?” for an analysis how Washington had provoked the Ukrainian conflict with Russia.
 See “First they came for the vacuum cleaners: will it be kettles next?”
Very well explained, Barry Stocker. Although it can be good for Britain to leave the EU, it entirely depends on how they go on from there. I am worried that Britain will move unto the path of less free trade which would be an erosion of the 4 freedoms – free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. On the other hand, it seems to me that the EU was steadily moving toward greater centralization and harmonization of regulations that would decrease the competition between its member states and thereby becoming quite harmful. I think that the EU should have never had greater ambitions than the 4 freedoms with a European Court of Justice that would protect these freedoms. Now they can impose EU-wide tariffs and quotas against products from countries outside of the EU or they can impose EU-wide sanctions. Some harmful examples of the EU: the quotas on cheap Chinese solar panels and EU-wide sanctions against Russia. A wise independent Britain would have free trade agreements with countries within and outside the EU, but I’m afraid that too large a portion of the Leave supporters are hostile to immigration and open markets.
Chhay Lin has written more about Brexit, in Dutch, on his homepage and I do recommend you check it out.
I posted this on Facebook twenty hours before the results were known:
The United Kingdom will not leave the EU. If it does, there will be concrete talks of a trade agreement between the UK and the Union within a week. Free trade is the best part of the EU anyway. It may be the only worthwhile part. At least, it undeniably works. The EU has a free trade agreement with Norway and with Switzerland already. I don’t see it denying the UK, not even out of collective pique.
My guess (guess) is that the UK will have done the EU a favor by pointing out that much of the European Union’s bureaucratic, abstract, nebulous project is simply overambitious. The UK taught the world democracy and soccer (football). It can teach its European neighbors pragmatism.
Obviously, I called the referendum wrong. The mistake I made was to guess that people who were going to vote for staying were more likely to lie to pollsters than partisans of Leave. That would have given an underestimate for the “stays.” I should not have called it. I am not inside British culture enough to make this kind of guess. I shouldn’t have. I won’t again.
I am perplexed by some of the comments I heard all day in the US media. Perhaps as a result of a bit of psychological projection, American commentators state that anti-immigration sentiment played the main part in the victory of the “leave.” This may be the case; I don’t know enough to pronounce but I need to make a technical point that the pundits don’t seem to be completely aware of. Leaving the European Union can only lessen the flow of European immigrants into the UK: Polish (plumbers), Romanian carpenters, and tens of thousands of French citizens, at least. Since about one million Brits leave abroad and almost all in the EU, I see an exchange agreement in the making. Don’t you?
Leaving the EU will do nothing or nearly nothing to reduce the intake of immigrants of color and of Muslims. Those landed in the UK and continue to land there as a consequence of past colonial relationships. I say this because I suspect (I suspect; I don’t know) that Brits are more exercised about large numbers of dark-skinned Muslims than they are about fewer dishwater-white Catholic Poles. Call me a cynic!
Second technical point. Many of the American commentators I heard today, including those predicting Armageddon as a result of the British referendum, seem to have vague ideas about what the European Union actually is. It’s actually fairly complicated but I don’t excuse them. If they want to comment, they should do their homework. Anyway, the EU is first and foremost a free trade area and and free investment area. In this capacity, it works very well. I mean by this that any step backward would impoverish all Europeans to some extent.
I don’t see how British industry and British commerce can really face the possibility of meeting with tariff walls and other discriminatory treatments in a market of 27 countries until now wide open to them.
The Brits have two years to finalize their exit. I think (but I have been wrong before; see above) that they will say to the EU: We are leaving except that… we want to be included in your free trade and free investment area, like Iceland and like Norway. As I mentioned above, I also think they will want some mutual arrangement about citizens of the EU living in the UK and citizens of the UK living in the EU. I think there are going to be many rounds of negotiations around the theme: “We are leaving but…” It’s also possible that the most fervent Leave-ers will ultimately be satisfied with having made a rude gesture toward Brussels, the capital of the European Union. I am repeating (in fear this time) my prediction that the British referendum will cause the EU to reform itself. In fact, think it already has.
I think Barry (here and here) and Edwin (here and here) have made the best contributions to the debate on the EU and sovereignty here at NOL to date, so I’m just going to add a couple of open-ended thoughts to the recent vote (which I think was a huge mistake).
One of the big theoretical debates over the years concerning the EU is the concept of European-ness and how it can never replace the nationalisms that already exist in each state across the pond. This makes no sense to me, though, especially if you buy the argument (as I do) that nations come and go largely in reaction to current events. German-ness or French-ness or British-ness could easily be subsumed by a European-ness.
I don’t want to be one of those doomsayers who claims that, because things did not go my way, all will be lost. The UK is going to be in for a little bit of hurt, financially, as is the European Union; losing the UK is a big deal, and so is leaving the EU. However, the UK is not exactly Sweden or Germany. The United Kingdom is poorer than Mississippi, the poorest administrative unit in the United States. It’s possible, if a bit unlikely, that the UK will be better placed to negotiate itself back to economic prominence if it doesn’t have to work through the EU to attain some of its goals. The UK has deep connections with a number of states and regions around the world thanks to its now-dead worldwide empire, and I don’t why a more Euroskeptic UK would decide to shun the rest of the world too, especially if the “rest of the world” was once a part of the UK’s empire (the glorious past of the UK seems to be an important talking point for Euroskeptics).
Immigration may not cease either. An irony here is that the Euroskeptics who won rode hard a wave of anti-immigration sentiment sweeping across the UK (and the rest of Europe, too). But it seems to me that, because of the UK’s deep connections to its former imperial provinces, most of the immigrants in the UK are going to be South Asian or Gulf Arab rather than Polish or Greek. Given that much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in Europe stems from a deep distrust of Islam, I find it odd that British voters could be so gullible on this matter.
Does anybody know if this vote is the final say on whether or not the UK will leave the EU? [UPDATE: see Dr van de Haar’s comment for an answer to my question] It seems to me that there has got to be some legal mechanisms, via courts, that have been put into place in order to slow down things like mob rule mass voting.