It’s worth reiterating that the reasons we had for leaving the EU in 2016 are just as valid today

It’s worth reiterating that the reasons we had for leaving the EU in 2016 are just as valid today

In times of anxious stress, it is too easy to become engrossed in process rather than substance. Today, it is timely for Britain’s voters to restore their focus, and remind themselves why they voted by a clear majority to Leave the European Union.

It was only after a momentous struggle, in the 1960s and 1970s, that a previous generation of British voters decided in favour of what was then the European Common Market. At that time, there were plausible reasons for this. But since then, the world has changed in three critical ways, providing conclusive reasons why a new generation of British voters opted to Leave in 2016.

1. The EU has gone ex-growth

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Common Market established itself as the world’s main centre of economic growth. Employment was high and living standards were advancing rapidly as internal tariff barriers came down. Britain’s economy had lagged, and it was hoped that by re-orienting our trade towards Europe, our industry could gain what were then called “dynamic benefits”.

Sixty years later, that picture has reversed. From the 1980s onwards, the Common Market, what would become the European Union, turned away from trade liberalisation and began to divert its efforts into the creation of a Common Regulatory Zone (which it called its Single Market) and a Single Currency Zone, with the establishment of the euro. Since then, the EU has firmly established itself as the world’s slowest growing region, with widespread economic stagnation. For more than a quarter of a century, the EU’s economic growth has fallen well below that of the UK and the rest of the industrialised world. And its levels of unemployment are trapped at levels previously thought unthinkable, an enduring assault on Europe’s young people, a moral scandal to which its institutions seem entirely indifferent.

So far, and for the time being, Britain has been able to avoid the economic malady that has engulfed the EU in the 21st century. In Britain, employment continues to expand rapidly (up 800,000) while British businesses prepare themselves for the promised Brexit. Britain’s trade, while stagnating in Europe, has long been flourishing vis-à-vis the rest of the world, which now takes most of the country’s exports.

But can Britain resist this European economic contagion for ever? It would be rash to assume so. Britain would then be under constant and ultimately irresistible pressure to submit to the misgovernment that is dragging Europe down. And as Britain goes on bending to Europe’s laws, it will find it increasingly impossible to avoid Europe’s economic sickness.

That is the first reason why the British people voted in 2016 to go their own way. Our economic future demands it. Our young people’s future demands it.

2. Globalisation has displaced trading empires

When Britain decided to join the Common Market, the world was divided into trading blocs separated by high tariffs, with Britain’s exports facing tariff walls amounting to between 15% and 20%. Joining the Common Market would bring us within Europe’s tariff wall and under its protection. For some years this seemed to bring export success, and in the 1970s and 1980s British exports to the EEC shared in the Common Market growth story.

Since then, however, these trends have gone into reverse and Britain’s exports to the EU have stagnated, sharing in the EU’s own stagnation. Over the 25-year lifetime of the European Common Regulatory Zone (Single Market), the growth of UK exports to the EU has been close to zero, even while they have grown solidly elsewhere.

And they have indeed grown solidly elsewhere. Over the same 25 years (the 1990s onwards), British exports have flourished in the world outside the EU. They have moved ahead wherever they have been free to prosper under the multilateral rules set by the World Trade Organisation. Britain’s exports now face low or zero tariff barriers in most countries worldwide and, throughout those 25 years, British exports have grown four times faster to the rest of the world than to the EU.

Britain therefore has no need to fear the consequences for its trade of leaving the failing EU and joining the globalised world. Much the reverse. World exports flourish under the WTO rules, not least exports to Europe by other members of the WTO. While the exports of Single Market members to one another have stagnated under the EU’s strangulating over-regulation, third countries exporting to the EU under the WTO rules have seen rapid growth. There seems to be no reason why Britain should not do the same as these countries, once free to do so. The scurrilous campaign against a “no-deal Brexit” is revealed as black propaganda.

In a word, globalisation has largely dismantled the tariff walls of yesteryear (certainly where industrial goods are concerned, though less for agriculture). Britain now exports in what is virtually a worldwide single market. This has spurred British exports to the rest of the world, while reducing and largely eliminating the preference they gain within the EU. Britain no longer gains any export benefit from its involvement in the mesh of European political integration which it finds so distasteful, and for which it pays so much.

Thus, while Britain had plausible commercial reasons for its original entanglement with the EU, the advantages didn’t last. In today’s world, Britain no longer has any reason to maintain the entanglement.

That is the second reason why the British people voted to go their own way.

3. The EU is set on a distasteful political union

When Britain joined the Common Market under the Treaty of Rome, it was a Community of freely co-operating nations, governed by their own elected governments and with their own currencies. Political union, while even then being discussed, seemed a remote, vague and improbable prospect, and it was thought that British governments would be well-placed to resist it as members.

Thus when the referendum on the Common Market was held in 1975, voters were told that political integration was no longer on the agenda. The British government of that day may have believed this in good faith, but since then the nature of the Common Market has changed. A succession of additional Treaties, which successive British governments have not welcomed but hesitated to obstruct, have dragged Britain, inch by inch, into a very different and more compromising set of entanglements. As a result, what has now been renamed as the European Union is moving fast towards becoming a menacing and all-embracing super-state, progressively absorbing the functions of its member governments, not excluding their military defences. And all the more menacing because its most powerful institutions are unelected and unaccountable.

In its new guise, the EU is engrossed in its chief project, its common currency, the euro. While Britain wisely stood aside from this project (providentially as it has turned out) the consequence has been that Britain is marginalised in EU debates. While the EU has changed its aims and purpose, Britain has already become a residual member on the edge of its affairs, contributing massively to its budget and its trade surplus, but no longer part of its conversation. If Britain now failed in its attempt to free itself and re-join the world, it would remain in a semi-detached and captive position.

That is the third reason why the British people voted to go their own way.

In this way, Britain’s entanglement with the EU has grown ever more threatening, even while the original reasons for it have lost their plausibility. Britain’s voters have no reason to question their vote to Leave and every reason to welcome their new Government’s belated determination to implement it.

Before the referendum, Britain’s voters were assured that whatever they decided would be implemented. They voted with that assurance in mind. After the referendum vote, they were assured that their vote to Leave the EU would be respected. Since then, however, they have fallen victim to a scurrilous campaign to undermine their decision, conducted through a continuing barrage of insult and deceit.

They have heard voices telling them their vote to Leave will of course be respected, but only if the EU agrees to a Withdrawal Agreement – and that the EU is unwilling to make an acceptable Withdrawal Agreement. In this way, “taking a no-deal Brexit off the table” has become an ever thinner cloak to disguise manoeuvring to take Brexit itself off the table altogether. In any case, a new concept of democracy has been adopted, in which your vote doesn’t count if you vote the wrong way. Indeed, in this new democracy, the majority who voted to Leave must regard themselves as disqualified because by definition they didn’t properly understand the issues.

Britain’s voters are of course dismayed at the decay of political morality that has made it possible for once-serious politicians and once-serious media to make themselves mouthpieces for this sort of black propaganda. They recall that this is the way other European countries have overturned referendums. This is democracy European-style.

But while resenting the conspiracy against them as voters, they will reflect that their 2016 vote to Leave the EU was cast with good reason. They had three good reasons and they can take heart that those reasons stand. They can take heart that the contrary case is indeed never seriously argued and they know how to regard opponents who can only resort to insult and abuse. They can resolve that the time has now come for their well-reasoned vote to be carried into effect.