I spent the 90s caring deeply for the European Union. I studied it, I lived in Brussels, I wrote about it, I spoke to its creators. I was lucky enough to have people like Peter Praet, Jamie Shea, and Jerry Sheridan and others as my teachers. So I come to this with opinions and of course with biases, and also with some in-depth education and professional interest. I haven’t always been an accountant or a professional libertarian. I spent the first decade of my working life in International Affairs. (Please enjoy this wikileaks cable with my name in it.)
So Brexit creates mixed emotions for me. Some thoughts in no particular order:
- I am certainly sympathetic to the notion that pushing power away from the center and farther down to the (or at least closer to the) people is a good thing generally. But a UK disconnected from Brussels does not necessarily make for a freer or more prosperous UK. Please remember what pre-Thatcher, pre-EU Britain was like. That nation has the capacity to go insular and closed very fast. And, of course, it can be the most open, prosperous place on the planet as well. So I think some of my friends celebrations are a bit premature. Garbage in the streets and “Rivers of Blood” Enoch Powell are possible again. Of course, those things are possible with the EU as well, but I think the former communist nations prevent that from happening too fast. More on that later.
- As my friend Tsvet Tsonevski pointed out this week, one does not simply “leave” the EU. There are dozens of treaties, hundreds of agreements, and probably thousands of regulations which have been incorporated into UK law in one or another over the past decades. How this all is dismantled (will it be?) is subject to potentially years of wrangling. In addition, the UK presumably wants to remain at the very least a trading partner of the EU (see above for that question). So all these rules and regulations will continue to have some level of de facto force in the UK, to the same extent that, say, the US must abide by EU rules to trade with European countries (and vice versa). I would wager that some “Leave” voters don’t realize the degree to which they can’t leave the EU. Ever.
- An example: CE marking. Hell, I’m subject to CE marking and I don’t live in the EU. Also, CE marking is governed by the EEA. Will the UK leave just the EU or also the EEA? How about EFTA? How about the successor agreements to the WEU? What about this freaking mess in Cornwall? You mean people voted for “freedom” but want free money anyway? Shocking. All this to say that no one really knows what “leaving the EU” means. The (very sketchy and unclear) map is not the territory.
- I would like people to appreciate the role the EU played in healing wounds post-war in Europe and in successfully bringing the post-Soviet countries out of the that orbit and into the West. Yes, I know we don’t know how things would have played out without the EU. Maybe things would have been just as successful or even more so. But we don’t actually know, and it seems like a lot of people I know who are jumping on the Brexit bandwagon assume the EU was always this regulatory behemoth. But the project in the 50s through the 80s was not that at all. It was a means to creating a larger peaceful market that recognized the political difficulties in such a project, and so slowly but surely integrated the nations of Europe. A valuable and noble project in my estimation. And one that was largely successful when concerned primarily with trade.
- My old boss Dan Griswold makes some good arguments about possible future UK regret connected to trade dynamics. It’s hard to know but this is a good possibility.
- Finally, I’ve spent the last few weeks listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series on World War I called Blueprint for Armageddon. He does his usual amazing job, but it makes me worry. Whither Europe?
In summary, uncertainty abounds, regret is already appearing, and I think the stakes are higher than most think. But hey, democracy can’t be wrong.