Barely one year after the Brexit referendum, and under four months since the triggering of Article 50, the Financial Times has published a “democratic case for stopping Brexit”, adding to a crescendo in overt calls to upend the exit process. How did we get here? The whole point of the EU referendum, just like the Scottish referendum before it, was to bury a longstanding and contentious political issue. In both cases, this has not been so.
In the case of Scotland, it is clear that the opportunism of the nationalists was to blame for reviving the independence issue. Similarly, in the case of Brexit, it is tempting to point the finger at the “Remoaners” who never really accepted the result of the referendum, protesting against the democratic outcome from the get-go. Their scheming has not been particularly covert, with the entire frame of the “hard” vs. “soft” Brexit debate geared towards eventually thwarting the outcome of the vote.
Yet, the blame primarily lies with the pro-Brexit camp. It is no secret that prominent figures in the Leave campaign had no clear plan for victory, themselves appearing flabbergasted by the result. The present situation is the logical continuation of this reckless incompetence.
Beyond hazy generalities, there is little to believe in with Brexit as it stands. As a result, people will increasingly become disillusioned. If a bad deal is eventually struck and it goes to parliament for approval, either a general election or second referendum could become a legitimate vehicle through which to upend the entire Brexit process. With May’s government barely clinging to a majority, it doesn’t require too much imagination to see how persistent Remainers could eventually get their way.
What is needed, if Brexit is to stop haemorrhaging legitimacy, is an ambitious plan. A favourite example of prominent Brexiteers revolves around the promise of the Anglosphere, so why not start there?
Together, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand constitute an Anglosphere of over 450 million people. This is more than the population of the EU 27 (without the UK). On top of this, these people are more prosperous than their EU counterparts, and have been for a long time.
Their GDP per capita is significantly higher than the EU average. In fact, in most cases it is even above that of the eurozone’s main economic success story: Germany. Growth rates have been higher too. While such aggregate figures are not the be all and end all of prosperity for the average citizen, they are certainly indicative.
Globally, the EU has been losing in relative economic importance at breakneck speed. The Western European edge of the Eurasian landmass –represented by the core 15 EU Member States– once dominated the global economy, controlling over a third of global GDP at the end of the 1960s. This was well above the US share of just over one quarter. Asia and Oceania stood at around 15% at the time.
Fast forward to 2011 and the EU15 share had tumbled to around a quarter of global GDP, having been overtaken by Asia and Oceania (driven primarily by China), as well as by the USA, whose share remained constant. Europe’s downwards trajectory has only accelerated as the eurocrisis has worn on.
The standard excuse offered up by sclerotic EU bureaucrats is that this march towards oblivion constitutes a natural “rebalancing” process as Asia, particularly China, regained its economic standing in the global economy. This naturally squeezed Europe’s share of global income.
But what is never addressed is why the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand were all able to hold onto their relative shares of global wealth compared to the EU. In other words, why were they able to grow faster? Why are they more prosperous? It is obvious that the dramatic rise of China had to displace other economic players in relative terms, but why has this decline fallen squarely on the EU’s shoulders, and not on those of the Anglosphere as well?
The “rebalancing” rationalisations for Europe’s terminal decline are most often offered up by those working for institutions obsessed with “relaunching” Europe, “fresh starts”, “no more business as usual”, “delivering European renewal”, “acting now” or otherwise declaring it “time to act”, cooking up plans to make the EU “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world”, etc. etc. Yet, these are the same people who shrug at the total and unique failure of Europe’s economy to hold its own in the world. You couldn’t make it up!
The EU has achieved unparalleled economic integration compared to any other regional bloc. And Britain was able to be a part of this union with such diverse nations for decades. Why, then, would some scheme for the Anglosphere be so far-fetched? Why would free movement of workers, for example, among countries with such similar needs and concerns –not to mention entwined intelligence services– be so unthinkable? And if it is not, where is the action?
As regards the limitations on Britain’s right to negotiate alternate trade deals while it remains within the EU, Britain must be careful to observe the letter of the law but certainly not its spirit, which is designed to thwart any successful secession. What is needed is a concrete plan that could be signed as soon as Britain is officially out of the EU, to be confidently presented to the public as a vision of the future after Brexit.
Without this, Brexit will surely suffer the same fate as the Remain campaign. Repeating generalities about executing the will of the people is as uninspiring as hypothesising over the future marginal economic costs of leaving the Union. These are not winning arguments. Leave won the campaign because it developed enthusing stances revolving around sovereignty: “take back control”. What does it offer now?
This article is by Daniel Matthews-Ferrero