I must confess to some amount of ambivalence overall on the Brexit topic over the last few months. When it comes to the UK, I tend to pay more attention to the latest production coming out of the BBC Masterpiece Mysteries than I do their raucous politics. I can say that I can certainly identify with elements of the Leave camp. I am highly suspicious of large supranational bodies such as the EU and it certainly has its downsides and serious flaws in centralization of unaccountable bureaucracies and loss of direct democracy at the local level. The EU could have a far more effective and durable institution if it focused less on political and regulatory union fronted by unaccountable bureaucrats and more on the common market and defense aspects of the treaty. This orientation seems to fail on the basis that there are not common taxing and banking decisions and regulations, resulting in the political strife that tends to become inevitable when largely successful and thrifty economies such as Germany and the Nordics have to incessantly bail out profligate economies such as Greece. On top of all of this, the moralizing hectoring and scorn heaped upon the leave camp has the emotional effect on the cynic in me of wanting to cock a snook at the seething elitism and fear mongering that undergirds much of what is coming from the Remain camp. Matt Ridley makes a compelling and succinct case in an op-ed for the Leave camp.
All that being said, a recent Wall Street Journal podcast on the issue forced me to seriously think through how I would vote if I happened to be British, and I have come down on the side of tilting towards the Remain camp. The challenge seems to be that most of the Leave side of the aisle seem less worried about abstract political theories of national rights of self-determination as it relates to the rule of law and much more concerned with populist beliefs and a desire to more directly impact immigration, usage by immigrants of public services such as the NHS, skyrocketing rents and home prices, and to limit free trade. The challenges of usage of expense related to public services and high housing prices due to immigration are a result of failed statist policies and restrictive housing regulations that are Britain’s fault alone and for which leaving the EU will do nothing to solve and one could argue (as the hosts of the podcast, Bret Stephens and Mary Kissel do) is purely a political distraction from the challenges that they should be solving. An insular Britain, while it may rid itself of the supranational and undemocratic elements of the EU, will not be charting a course to some economic laissez-faire dreamland. It would seem that if the leaves have it, then it would be hard to ignore the concomitant electoral mandate to promote economically harmful protectionist policies and to shut the doors to economically beneficial immigration. Protective nationalism would be the result.
As a Bret Stephens WSJ op-ed indicates, the ideal scenario and supranational construct would be one built upon foundations of common markets, contributions to defense, and promotion of free trade spread out across countries that have common views of free-market principles and the rule of law. Given that this is not on offer and we don’t collectively have the political leadership to bring it about while Britons are staring at the immediate prospect of a smaller and less globally engaged and protectionist England (Scotland would surely finally carve off of the UK and join the EU on their own), I hope for a remain vote. At least for now.