Who governs Britain?

France is suffering one of its periodic bouts of industrial unrest. One of the main trades union organisations, the CGT, is mounting sustained protests against a government proposal, already heavily compromised, to modify employment legislation. Oil refineries and power stations are blockaded. Riot squads are tear-gassing demonstrators on the streets of Paris. It’s all quaintly reminiscent of Britain in the 1970s.

In February 1974, the National Union of Miners called a national strike. Prime Minister Edward Heath called a general election for 28 February using the slogan “Who governs Britain?” Once the results were in, the answer was clear: not Edward Heath’s Conservative Party.

A decisive intervention in the campaign was that of Enoch Powell, who argued that the main issue in the campaign was whether Britain was to “remain a democratic nation … or whether it will become one province in a new Europe super-state”.

After a second general election that year, Harold Wilson formed a majority Labour Party government. After his so-called renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU, and the subsequent 1975 referendum, the answer to our initial question was even clearer: neither Heath’s Conservatives nor Wilson’s socialists any longer governed Britain. The unelected and unaccountable European Commission did. And still do.


Riders and elephants

Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider helps explain social intuitionism: in forming judgements, intuitions come first, rational argument follows in an attempt to explain and justify the initial intuition.

Voters in the referendum will not be swayed primarily by rational, intellectual arguments.

The archetypal undecided voter hasn’t thought a lot about the EU. But he (she) has two conflicting concerns. Leaving the EU might damage economic prosperity, threaten jobs, increase the cost of living, as every authoritative voice claims. But remaining could open the UK to unlimited immigration, ever-greater pressure on social services, the NHS and housing and downward pressure on wages for plumbers and other tradesmen.

There is a respectable argument that the least-disruptive route to exit would in the short-to-medium term involve continued membership of the Single Market via the EEA/EFTA option. But the undecided voter may disagree. If we say: it’s OK, we have a way out which will preserve membership of the Single Market, and may protect your livelihood; but by the way you’ll have to accept all the other stuff (immigration, social services, Polish plumbers…), he well may say “Oh no, that is not what I meant at all.” He may instinctively feel that we don’t need any of this corporatist, statist, bureaucratic, elitist political stuff, and that Britain should control its own borders and immigration policy.

Who are we to disagree? Would we prefer to lose rather than win for the ‘wrong’ reasons?


Trade is good. It’s not a zero-sum game. By matching one party’s needs with a second party’s surplus, free trade in an open market enriches both parties.

Individuals trade; companies trade. But — with the exception of government procurement — governments don’t trade. Despite their rhetoric about striking trade deals, most of the time, most government intervention in the market is designed to impede free trade. By erecting tariffs and non-tariff barriers, they aim to protect indigenous industry, to promote consumer protection or to advance some dubious policy objective. Most “trade deals” aim simply to reduce constraints on trade previously imposed.

The single market of the European Union is a protectionist structure, erecting barriers to the ability of Europeans to trade with non-members of the Union.

Some who argue in favour of leaving the EU place the highest priority on Britain retaining participation in the single market — at least in the short-medium term. From this flow consequences such as continuing to accept, at least temporarily, the four freedoms of movement, of goods, services, people and capital.

We don’t agree. Trade is important, especially for a nation such as Britain. But inter-governmental trade arrangements cannot be given absolute priority. Our instinct is that in the end the natural individual propensity to trade will overcome governments’ desire to constrain it. Considerations of sovereignty thus have to take precedence over those of short-term trading constraints.

Big yellow taxi

For most Britons, life is not too bad; for some, it’s doubtless quite comfortable. So we can understand that the referendum does not engage everyone’s close interest.

If the polls are correct, about one third of Britons are generally in favour of continued membership of the European Union; one third are opposed; and the remainder are undecided. And two-thirds may not vote in any case. Vague and mendacious references to trade, GDP and household prosperity may sway waverers; but arguments about sovereignty may seem too abstract and distant.

Until it’s too late.

We have progressively and substantially ceded the power to govern our own affairs to the European Union. This process cannot be reversed as long as we remain ‘member states’. Unless we extricate ourselves from this outmoded and anti-democratic structure, British citizens will in the end discover — when it really finally matters — that we are powerless to control our own future.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone

A mess of pottage

Could… could… could… Might… might… might…

We have referred before to the unpredictability of the future. Nevertheless, Cameron’s Project Fear persists in predictions of possible gloom and doom… death and disaster… plagues of frogs and locusts…

Today’s so-called analysis by the Treasury of the long-term economic impact of EU membership and the alternatives has been thoroughly — and rightly — trashed. But it is important that the debate should not get bogged down in trivial arguments over possible percentage points of GDP decades in the future. That is to play the Remain game. The economic argument is a a deliberate distraction and an attempt to ramp up the fear.

This is not what this referendum is about. It is about on whom we confer — temporarily and conditionally — the power to govern us. And it is about whether they have, or have had, the right to sell our birthright as free-born Britons.

“I know not whether those who did our Rights betray,
And for a mess of Pottage,
sold away our dear bought freedoms,
shall now trusted be as conservators of our Libertie”

Benjamin Keach 1689


Blackmail and lies

On top of the lies carelessly broadcast by Project Fear we now have emotional blackmail. Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, warns us that:

“if Britain leaves Europe it will be young people who suffer the most… everyone who casts their vote must understand that. If parents and grandparents vote to leave, they’ll be voting to gamble with their children and grandchildren’s future.”

On the contrary. Nicky Morgan was hardly born at the time of the last referendum, and clearly has no conception of what she is talking about. It is those parents and grandparents who by their vote 40 years ago conspired to surrender Britain’s independence. The least they can do now — for the future of their children and grandchildren — is to help atone for that historic error, and reclaim the sovereignty so shamefully compromised.

And on the subject of lies… Des anyone know if Cameron’s “legally binding” (ie worthless) agreement has been deposited as promised at the United Nations? We can find — unsurprisingly — no mention of it on their website.

Beside the point

Yesterday in the Daily Telegraph, Mehreen Khan reported the Dutch bank ING’s claim that Britain leaving the European Union would ‘wipe off’ up to 0.3 per cent of GDP from the euro’s 19 economies in less than two years.

0.3 per cent! Three parts in a thousand! It is difficult to express the horror that that such a prospect evokes. Perhaps.

Governments do not create growth in GDP, still less does the EU. Economic growth results from free agents — corporations and individuals — contracting agreements to purchase and supply with each other. The best that governments can do is facilitate a level playing field for free exchange, and minimize economic distortions — through tax for example.

According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Britain will become the world’s fourth largest economy — ahead of Germany and Japan — in the next twenty years. According to IMF estimates, UK GDP will increase from $2.7 trillion in 2015 to $6.0 trillion in 2035. Our children and grandchildren will be — more or less — twice as wealthy as we are in twenty years’ time.

0.3 per cent off GDP in the eurozone is rather beside the point.

Just the facts, ma’am*

We often see complaints — from pundits, journalists and private individuals — that they don’t have sufficient facts to inform a decision on whether or not Britain should leave the European Union. This is curious, since there is a massive amount of information available to those who care to do their own research and form their own conclusions. But it is also true that fundamentally there is only one fact and one judgement which matter.

The fact is that the future is uncertain. Whatever the result of the referendum, we shall never know whether the alternative route which could have been taken would have been better. GDP up or down a bit? Trade deals more or less advantageous? Border control stronger or weaker? Who knows? The fundamental judgement, however, is that managing this uncertainty to the benefit of Britain will be more effective if the British people rather than the Brussels apparatchiks control it.

There’s a great deal of research about the interaction of rationality and emotion in decision-making. In routine, everyday decisions, it makes sense to use rational evaluation. But in the big decisions, emotions should and do carry the day. Do you want to be governed by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels or — despite their many faults — by your own elected representatives? Simple, no?

*Apparently, Joe Friday never actually said this line in Dragnet.


It is important to stay focused on the big picture, on the principled reasons for leaving the European Union. However, many people are — understandably — concerned about the potential impact on them personally.

We have close contacts with a number of British expatriates living in continental Europe. They are worried about whether they will still be able to live in France or Spain; about their continued access to healthcare; about whether they might even be forced to sell up and return to Britain. Cameron and his cronies are trying to exacerbate those fears, but without going so far as actually to endorse them. Because the fact is that those fears are groundless.

The key principle is that of executed rights, or acquired rights, as established in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This provides that “Withdrawal from a treaty does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination”. All current ex-pats will continue to enjoy all the rights and freedoms which they chose to exercise before Britain decided to leave the EU. There will be no change to their situation, whatever the result of the referendum.

What of our children and grandchildren? What rights will they have? No-one can predict how the law might evolve in the future. But continued access to the EU Single Market will imply continued freedom of movement. And Britons have lived happily in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy for generations past. Why otherwise is the Promenade des Anglais in Nice so-called?