We Should Let the UK Leave Europe
President Obama’s threat that a British exit from the European Union would harm the United Kingdom economically may well backfire. Not only did Obama unnecessarily intrude into a British domestic debate — Brexit, as it’s now known — he did so by crassly threatening to downgrade US-UK trade relations.
It’s not hard to understand why in a YouGov poll, 53% of Brits called Obama’s thumb on the scales “inappropriate,” with just 35% deeming it “appropriate.”
The President and the rest of us need to take deep breaths. In assessing the economic consequences of Brexit, pro-European Union analysts fgive the impression that leaving the Union would cast Britain into the outer darkness: isolated, ignored and impoverished.
Such results, of course, were also confidently predicted when London kept the British pound rather than adopting the Euro. None of it happened.
The same is true for Brexit. EU stalwarts like German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble have tried to scare Britain by proposing obnoxious exit terms. The rhetoric is hollow bluster. The advantages of free trade and easy movement of goods and financial resources between Europe and Britain, whether or not the latter remains part of the former, will dictate that Britain and the EU negotiate Brexit terms that are mutually advantageous.
Clearly, the final shape of the UK-EU relationship includes difficult issues. But Britain now enjoys a trade surplus with the EU, giving it powerful diplomatic leverage. Besides, uncertainty and transitional problems do not outweigh the benefits of escaping the growing negative economic consequences of EU membership, such as increased regulation and taxation.
The EU today is far from the free trading, market-oriented economic growth engine many hoped for. Instead, statist policies from the people who brought us the word “bureaucracy” are centralizing power in the hands of Brussels rulemakers.
In fact, the leave-over-my-dead-body attitude of people trying to hold the EU together at all costs says more about what Brits and other skeptics will face if they remain. The EU is a secular religion for many Europeans, and woe to the heretic. That’s why exiting now is the optimal decision.
It won’t be easier to leave later, especially as the EU’s problems expand: the inherent instability of the Euro, a currency without a government; the widely divergent economic policies pursued by EU member states; the mass migrations of people from the Middle East and the attendant terrorist risks, and the shared threat of a newly resurgent Russia.
Third, and most importantly, the desperate attempt of pro-EU voices to hold the Union together proves what EU critics have feared all along: This confederacy of nations was never really about being a free-trade area. For its most devout adherents, the EU has always been about political power — creating a European super-state.
And from Britain’s perspective, that should be a non-starter.
British citizens are rightly concerned about their increasing loss of control over basic decisions of government. For example, Britain’s international flexibility is hobbled by the need to form a common EU security policy. Regulatory decisions flow like water from the Brussels mandarins. And EU courts establish human rights standards that undercut British domestic security and law-enforcement priorities.
There is little doubt that, for many Brits, preserving self-government and “defending the realm” both rank above merely economic considerations.
By transferring power from Parliament in London to conference rooms in Brussels, the EU has created a democratic deficit that more and more people across the European continent increasingly resent.
The facile attempt to liken a United States of Europe to the United States of America cannot obscure the reality of two widely divergent historical experiences. America grew essentially from the original 13 colonies outward in a pattern where a common language, culture and national philosophy spread across North America over an extended period of time.
By contrast, the EU is an entirely top-down project, imposed over an ancient continent of widely diverse peoples, languages, customs and religions. And even America had differences sufficiently profound to provoke an almost unimaginably bloody civil war.
There is an inherent economic risk in abandoning arrangements and institutions built up over time. But in the sweep of European history, the EU is a newcomer. It makes sense for Britain exit now rather than wait until disaster strikes.
Obama should be smart enough to understand that.
Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This article was originally published by the NY Daily News.