Down With The EU
David Cameron and George Osborne have been EU-bashing again this week, and they mean what they say as regards the financial transactions tax and financial services regulation. It’s not clear that they mean what they say as regards immigration: they have to pretend to be against it in order to placate would be supporters of UKIP and other lunatic fringes. In fact, as they know very well, the UK has benefited enormously from successive waves of immigration resulting from illiberal and repressive policies pursued by successive Continental tyrants, from Huguenot weavers in the seventeenth century to Jewish scientists in the 20th. Countless surveys have shown that immigrants add value to the UK, work harder and are less of a drain on the social services than native Brits; but if they want to get re-elected Tory leaders have to pretend otherwise. Cameron’s rather vapid demands for change from the EU are somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios: he can see that the EU would benefit from major changes to its economic policies, and can get electoral benefit from making threatening noises; yet in his heart he probably doesn’t believe that changing the EU is feasible.
That’s sad, because the UK’s economically liberal, internationalist stance, shared to some extent by Denmark and the Netherlands, along with some of the newer Eastern European member states, is badly needed as a counterweight to the statist, Colbertian attitudes of the core Continental EU members led by France and Germany. Sensible EU leaders, and there are some, know this, welcomed the arrival of the UK, and would regret its departure. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the general stance of the UK towards Europe was positive, and the British establishment tried hard to be involved, usually with good results. That has changed. It’s trite to say that the Tories under John Major or Labour under Tony Blair were anti-European, rather than just being euro-skeptic, yet that was the period during which the Westminster establishment disengaged from Europe; and the subsequent Tory administration has had a surly, combative attitude towards Brussels which has done nothing to burnish British credentials. Now it’s too late: win or lose (and most likely the latter) Europe has hitched its wagon to the “social partners” model and has ditched economic liberalism as a guiding principle. There probably still are economic liberals in Brussels, and on the margin, in such areas as trade relations, they are still effective, but to this day, the only country in Europe that has had a Thatcherite revolution is the UK, and we are long past the point at which the British could have affected the Continental drift towards nanny statism.
This column thinks that the British should leave, by all means preserving the single market (itself increasingly indistinguishable from the WTO’s regime and other multilateral agreements), but dumping the regulatory carapace that the EU is imposing on financial services and the labor market, and becoming an independent trading nation once again. If Britain’s rulers really meant to do that, and if Brussels really believed they meant it, then there would be a faint last chance for Europe to halt its decline. Otherwise, and much most probably, Osborne and Cameron will continue to whinge, Europe will continue to ignore them, and the whole caboodle will decline gracefully into irrelevance.