Britain Makes History
By Richard Samuelson
So yet another effort to put all of Europe under one government seems to be failing. From Caesar to Charlemagne to Charles V to Louis XIV to Napoleon and beyond the vision of unity has been a recurring theme in European politics. The latest effort, a union forged in the wake of two destructive and nearly universal wars, is different in some ways—although not democratic, there have been democratic elements in the EU. Moreover, and most importantly, expansion has been peaceful, featuring conquest by referendum.
All that notwithstanding, one can, quite accurately see the Brexit as the latest in a long series of rejections of a universal European empire, with Eurocrats in the place of previous would-be emperors. As in previous centuries, Cambridge and Oxford dons are more comfortable conferencing with their peers at the Sorbonne than with their fellow subjects, and once again the would-be coutiers they train look to the Continent for moral guidance. And, as before, many of Her Majesty’s common subjects resent it.
There has been a great deal of negativity directed at the idea of a British exit from the European Union. The campaign against Brexit headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, in conjunction with the Labour Party leader and the chief Liberal Democrats serving in Parliament, has been dominated by dire warnings of falling living standards and economic calamity at home, to predictions of greater instability and even war in Europe, should the United Kingdom leave the EU.
Would Britain gain or lose by leaving the European Union? Is it possible the consequences would be neutral, with the costs and benefits of Brexit cancelling each other out?
On Saturday, after what seemed like interminable haggling in Brussels with his European Union counterparts, followed by a specially convened meeting of his cabinet, David Cameron went to the steps of 10 Downing Street and told Britons that a referendum would be put to them in June on whether Britain should stay in or leave the EU.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the opposition Labour Party in Britain was conducted in a rather peculiar fashion. All one had to do to obtain a vote in it was to declare on-line that one supported the aims of the party and pay £3 ($4.60). It was rumoured that a number of Conservatives had voted for Mr Corbyn in this fashion, in the belief that Mr Corby was so left-wing that he could never be elected, thus assuring a permanent Conservative government.
David Cameron’s unexpected victory in the British elections Thursday is also an important victory for liberty. Rather than increasing spending after the financial crisis, he pursued what the left terms “austerity” policies. An austerity program is better described as a liberty program because it curbs the reach of the state by shrinking it. By contrast, government stimulus programs, like those supported by most of the intelligentsia in the UK and elsewhere, make the state more powerful by allowing politicians to direct a firehose of money where it will do them the most good.
Cameron’s constitutional thinking is sound as well. He wants to reform Britain’s relationship with the EU to make the latter more a free trade zone than a super state. Subsidiarity within a free trade zone can foster freedom while preserving accountable government. Within the UK, Cameron is also for the devolution of powers, not only in Scotland, but also in England, which should further align government with the people. Local jurisdictions could be more responsive to their citizens, and those who do not agree with the local politics may be able to move to another jurisdiction within the United Kingdom with policies they prefer.
Cameron’s differences with Ed Miliband’s Labor Party were huge.