The UK can show continental Europeans that freedom actually works

The UK can show continental Europeans that freedom actually works

Americans have always been rather dramatic when it comes to their patriotic fervour. The United States was “ordained by God,” with a “manifest destiny” to settle the West, possibly even, as Frederick Merk noted, to “build a new heaven”. The “American experience” should materialise as a “shining city upon a hill” – and if you asked most US Presidents of recent decades, such as Ronald Reagan, the answer would be that “She [i.e. the US] is still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom”.

Now, my initial reaction to those assertions would be to tell the people from across the pond to get off their high horse. But on second thoughts, they might not be so incorrect. After all, the United States has been a beacon for all those who advocate for liberty for many centuries now. It truly has stood as a shining city upon a hill, a prime example of what can happen if the government leaves its people alone to do what they want, not what experts and bureaucrats deem to be good – an example of what miraculous things we may experience and discover if people are free to innovate, free to trade and free to interact. It has become less true over the years, of course, but to a certain extent, the metaphor still holds true to this day.

Now let me take you back to 23rd June 2016. When the British people decided they wanted to leave the European Union, my reaction was similar to many freedom-loving people on the continent. On the one hand, there was a slight panic to say the least. For one, the UK has been an important trading partner for most EU countries, particularly for the country in which I was living back then, Germany. Undoubtedly, our domestic economy would be hurt if no good deal were struck.

Even more so, losing the British from the negotiating tables in Brussels will be an immense loss. Always having been the most sceptical voice about further EU integration, the UK often enough averted disaster for anyone who doesn’t dream of a European superstate. How will the situation unfold if the UK is missing?

But then again, at the same time, there was much hope. Hope for the British people who, finally being freed from the bureaucratic and regulatory constraints of Brussels, will look to the rest of the world – to traditional allies in the US, Canada, Australia or Latin America, as well as those in Asia, Africa and the Gulf region. While giving itself a global (rather than merely European) orientation, the UK will at the same time regain its national sovereignty: instead of being bullied from abroad, the British themselves will put their future into their own hands again.

And not only that. There was hope that this will not only be beneficial for the British, but also for us continental Europeans in the long run. What if Brexit were to become a success? Will others follow? Might Denmark or the Netherlands say goodbye to the game of thrones in Brussels? Will Brussels and all hardcore federalists finally realise that their vision of an “ever closer union” was completely wrong-headed from the start?

Will it be possible to still save the European project by realigning it with a new vision, one strongly based on the subsidiarity principle, one of decentralisation and local diversity? Could this actually happen with a strong coalition of realist voices around Europe, having British success in sight and enough leverage and accumulated power to make a change – something of which we have seen glimpses already)? Will Britain, by showing what a country can do by leaving the EU, be a prime example of what works – and that one-size-fits-all solutions don’t? Competition between states makes for good policy after all.

Does that sound naïve? Maybe it does today. We’ve just had the second anniversary of the Brexit vote and – so far – not enough of this vision of a “Global Britain” has materialised.

But there is still time and for that, the UK Government needs to finally focus on how to properly exit the union and establish what should happen afterwards. This should no longer be a discussion as to whether Brexit was right; rather, it should be about how to do Brexit right.

For that, the old vision has to return: Britain as a beacon of free trade, finally freed from the protectionist EU that is for free trade in name only; a Britain that is able to lower the regulatory burden to which Brussels has subjected it; a Britain that stops funding rich farmers and sending millions to other countries every year and instead keeps its money (and perhaps uses it for tax cuts? Just a recommendation!); and a Britain that certainly does not forget Europe, but does also look to other areas of the world.

This way, Britain could truly become a “shining city upon a hill” itself. Britain would be a shining city for Europe, for all of us here on the other side of the Channel, leading by example, and showing the Brussels elite that freedom actually works. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be taken. Please don’t squander it.