Un rule Britannia

History will show that the UK dominated recent EU thinking in recent years. Notably, it was the UK that drove the project of expanding the EU eastwards. Consequently, eight eastern and central European countries (plus two Mediterranean countries) joined on 1 May 2004. The motivation for this had many elements. There was of course the geopolitical desire to draw in states which had escaped the clutches of the Soviet Union. At least as important was the UK driven faith in the benefit of liberal market economics. The bigger the market, the better for all.

It is difficult to think of any EU state which would now allow the UK to keep the free movement of goods, services and capital while resisting the free movement of people. (Even Ireland would only be sympathetic if the UK continued its pre-EU free movement of people between those two islands). It is particularly difficult to believe that every one of those central and eastern European states would agree to ‘fine, we will trade with you under the EU but we are ok with not being allowed to work in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast’. Try that in Krakow.

At the heart of all of this is the revolution in economic thought emanating from Britain – more precisely from Scotland’s Adam Smith – a quarter a millennium ago.

  • Old thinking: There is a finite amount of wealth in the world. If you have more, then I have less.
  • New thinking: If we specialise and trade with each other, we are both better off. The more people who are trading freely, the better off we are.

A sharp test case is that of Ireland in the 20th Century. While most of Europe prospered after 1945, Ireland clung to the economic ‘old thinking’ of ‘ourselves alone’. It was only when it looked outwards from the late 1950s that it began to prosper.

Brexit is a cry back to pre Adam Smith thinking. Some of the more sophisticated Brexiteers tried to counter this by confidently asserting that the UK would generate better trade deals beyond the EU. The Autumn 2016 visit of the UK Prime Minister to India – in which she returned empty-handed – suggests that this is an illusion… even within the Commonwealth.

Unless the UK has a rush of honesty about the predicament it has inflicted upon itself – and takes courageous, realistic and emotionally intelligent action – it will find that the world and Adam Smith have gone in one direction while it (and Trump’s America) are going in another.

The UK has many friends in Ireland. This is the second letter from such a friend.

See also http://www.peterwhite.ie/english-nationalism-brexit-reversal/