Liberal Brexiteers? Yes, we do exist!
While the Lib Dem leadership may be fanatical supporters of the EU, they do not speak for all Liberals. According to YouGov, 32% of Lib Dem supporters voted for Brexit; then there was the “Liberal Leave” campaign run by Lib Dems, and the pro-Brexit Liberal Party; finally there are individual liberal Brexiteer campaigns of which www.liberalbrexiteers.com is one.
Any Liberal should be concerned by the European Union as currently constituted; the customs union that is Fortress Europe frustrates free trade, the EU is a politicians’ rather than a people’s project, its political structures are not human in scale and it doesn’t make sense to wire all the key functions of the government of every member state into one massive European fusebox. Above all, the EU fails to make the crucial distinction between unity and uniformity, hence the Brussels obsession with “one size fits all”.
Finally, the EU may have a parliament but it is not a democracy; while it is possible in a British election to vote out a government and replace it with an alternative, the hybrid governance of the European Parliament, Commission and Council does not allow for this. It’s all labyrinthine, unresponsive and remote. Democracy loses traction under such circumstances, as few can name their MEPs and declining turnouts (43% in 2014) evidence increasing voter disenchantment with the European project.
In short, the EU fails to measure up to any liberal yardstick. If, God forbid, we are saddled with another neverendum, the liberal credo of individualism, localism and community should easily outgun the distant corporate globalism of the EU, provided other Brexiteers give it campaign space.
Meanwhile, the ultimate EU objective remains the creation of a federated Union of European states, with one economy, one currency, one army, one law and one president. But is a United States of Europe still relevant or desirable? Thanks to the internet and the Jumbo Jet, the world is a much smaller place than it was in 1950. A union of countries having nothing much in common apart from their borders might have had something going for it in the 19th Century but does European exclusivity and identity still make sense? Why a union with Germany but not Japan, with Austria but not Australia?
My website liberalbrexiteers.com attempts to address these issues and tries forecasting what the global situation will be in 2050. Our world is changing at bewildering speed, as millions of people in a host of developing nations demand a standard of living that we have taken for granted for decades. If we are to survive, let alone prosper, in this challenging environment of shrinking resources, burgeoning populations and highly competitive markets, we need to reach out and make common cause with those nations – European or not – who think as we do. In this context, the EU will be an international irrelevance, thanks to a declining GDP, shrinking market share and a reducing EU population which currently represents only 7% of the world total and will be a mere 5% by 2050.
Certainly, Brexit has stress tested the main parties to their limits and all will emerge damaged by this process. British Liberalism has not escaped, thanks to those who describe themselves as Liberals and Democrats, but nevertheless resolved to “resist” the result of a public ballot and to denigrate those who voted Leave as uneducated oiks who didn’t understand the issues. In particular, the 65+ age group has been singled out by Lib Dems because they voted by nearly 2 to 1 to Leave the EU and stand accused of “shafting the young” who voted by over 2 to 1 to Remain. Leaving aside that these oldies were the very same voters who as youngsters had voted by nearly 2 to 1 to remain part of the European project in 1975 and that maybe the political class should ask why they changed their minds, the intolerant stance of the Lib Dem leadership post-2016 has been a disgrace to the British liberal tradition.
Moreover, their demands for another neverendum are wrong-headed. The last referendum cost £137 million, lasted four months and was highly divisive. A second referendum and/or a third general election in the space of four years would achieve nothing other than accentuate these divisions.
The will of the people may seem dubious at times (indeed, we Liberals reckon the electorate has been making ghastly mistakes since 1906!) but the democratic process is logical. Another referendum would subvert the democratic rule that we vote in the light of our experience, on the understanding that we may vote differently in a following ballot if things do not work out. We have to experience Brexit first before we can make a judgement. We can always decide to renew our membership of the EU in the future if our experience of Brexit indicates that our leaving was a mistake, but the proof of the Brexit pudding is in the eating, not in endless speculation about how palatable it will be.
So we don’t need another ballot; we just need Parliament to do what we told them to do after they decided to ask us what we wanted. Lib Dem, Labour, Conservative and other MPs – including Tim Farron, David Lammy, Dominic Grieve and Caroline Lucas – started this hare running in 2015 when they united to vote for a referendum. They must now unite to deliver the clean-break Brexit that we voted for, as described in the Government’s referendum pamphlet as the undesirable alternative to remaining in the EU.
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