After the Referendum: Sorting through the Rubble (2016), by Sean Gabb

After the Referendum: Sorting through the Rubble
By Sean Gabb
(2nd July 2016)

What more to say about the past eight days? They began with a referendum vote that sent a shock across the world. They have now settled into something like business as usual. The shape of the British Constitution will be determined by the internal politics of the Conservative Party. Here, then, are some thoughts on how things might proceed between now and Christmas.

First, we shall most likely leave the European Union. A margin of four per cent is a less than solid mandate for the biggest constitutional change since the Parliament Act. Going in was nothing compared with coming out. As a whole, the ruling class would like us to stay. Membership is a useful veil for hiding the lines of accountability. But leaving suits the Conservative leadership. It will end the longest and most nagging split in party history. Virtually all the party members and most Conservative voters want to leave. The Europhile wing in Parliament will be leaned on to vote as told. The result will be a united Conservative Party facing a fractured Labour Party and a non-existent Liberal Democrat Party. Indeed, more people voted to leave than ever vote Conservative. There is a sectional opportunity in view that probably trumps the overall interest of the ruling class.

The Scotch voted to stay in. But they are a long way off and all in one place, and they are probably not brave enough to vote for independence. Their historic record is to obey the English and spend the next few centuries whining about what a hard deal they got. If they do otherwise now, that will be a problem for next year or the year after, and it will have little impact on English politics.

Yes, we shall most likely come out.

Second, the leaving terms are largely unimportant. I would like a free trade agreement and nothing more. If British companies want to export to the European Union, they will need to obey the various product regulations – just as British cars sent to America drive on the right hand side, and just as British jam sent to Turkey is labelled in Turkish. But there is no reason why these regulations should apply in our own market unless we wish them to. However, it will not be the end of the world even if we agree to the whole of the Acquis Communautaire and continued budget contributions. Inside the European Union, these things have the force of domestic law, and they are difficult to evade and impossible to change. Once we are out, they will be treaty obligations, and treaties can be renegotiated or repudiated as we find convenient. A clean break would be best. A dirty break will make no difference in the long term.

Third, and bearing in mind the above, the choice of next Prime Minister is largely beside the point for how and when we leave the European Union. But here is when those of us who share that inclination must put our libertarian hats on again. Leaving the European Union will be useful. It will allow our ruling class to move to a less compromised form of economic liberalism than has so far been possible. Politically, it will make the source of ultimate power over our lives less ambiguous than it has been since 1973. But it is not the European Union that made us into a chaotic police state. The European Union never forced us to employ armies of feral social workers, or to unleash the police, or to abolish freedom of speech and association, or to tear up the common law safeguards in criminal trials. It did not give us laws against drugs and pornography that would have made David Maxwell Fyfe rub his eyes with astonishment. It did not push us into those unjustified and lost wars. Our own rulers did all that – by themselves or on orders from their American overlords.

I have no doubt that leaving the European Union will eventually give us a set of trade and fiscal and regulatory policies more in keeping with our national interest. It will not in itself make our country free again in the traditional sense. That remains decidedly unfinished business, and is something that will occupy the minds of libertarians and conservatives for a long time to come. If, last Thursday week, a page was turned in our national history, it remains for us to ensure that we have some guidance over the hand that writes it.

I may be wrong in this analysis. Since I was wrong about the result of the Referendum, I have no right to claim any unusual power of seeing into the future. But, just over a week after the votes were counted, some important facts do seem to be drifting out of the mist, and these, rather than the details of when and by whom Article 50 will be invoked, may have the strongest claim on our attention.

© 2016 – 2017, seangabb.

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