Like clubbing seals: the case for Britain in Europe – 2 July 2012

(Including the comments I received – below the piece)

It’s very difficult to love the EU. It does, after all, largely consist of foreigners.

Over there.

(I of course jest)

And whilst the Lisbon Treaty gave the European Parliament many more powers, to act like the US Congress, the general perception amongst those Europeans that the EU governs is that the central institutions are run by yet more foreigners, this time with higher level degrees, who have probably never stood for election, and who don’t much care for what the ordinary citizen thinks or wants.
I mean, imagine it. A leadership totally disconnected from the ordinary needs and wants of the citizens who, by dint of education or money have no understanding of being part of the wage earning masses, and who weren’t even elected by significant numbers of them… what a shower of poo that would be…
(I digress)

But whilst the EU project, and the golden handcuffs it has provided in the post-war period have contributed to the Germans no longer wanting to highlighting the weaknesses in other nations military defences, various previously uppity nations having a go at democracy, and the unprecedented free movement of peoples, goods and services and – even with the current omnishambles of an economic crisis – prosperity.. Euromania has hit the UK again.

And we just can’t help ourselves.

You, see if I was Prime Minister, facing the significant local difficulties of the Leveson inquiry (which I have LOL’d at.. or did I love it, I can never remember which is which), and a proportion of my donor base have the sort of tax arrangements that transformed Jimmy Carr from smug faceddeliverer of caustic one liners, to smug faced deliverer of not-so-cheap-gags, as it turned out, my own class background, and how that was funded keeps being poked at in the press, and my Chancellor doing so many policy u-turns, he needed to drop the tax increase on petrol (gas) to be able to afford to keep u-turning so we didn’t have to… I’d probably press the Euro-nutter button too. It’s the easiest button in the political lexicon to press. Right after, the ‘sponging-undeserving-poor’ button. Nothing like responding to stories in the press about multi-millionaires only paying the equivalent of 1% income tax with a policy initiatives aimed at taking a few quid off some poor people. And before there are howls, those who are healthy, and yet make a living sitting at home soaking up my taxes for no readily good reason get on my thru’penny bits too.

But more digressions.

We probably shouldn’t mention that it was a Tory Prime Minister who campaigned so hard to get the UK into the EU (EEC) in the first place (Heath), nor one who oversaw and signed up to the largest extension of its powers in the 1980s (Thatcher). This only upsets people. Thatcher saw the light. When she was about to leave office. But the important point is that these people, and the bulk of right thinking centrists, and centre-right folk supported entry into and continued membership of the union because of the following inalienable truths:

The EU isn’t just a useful addition for British business, it is British business. 70% of exports, in fact.
The European trading area makes Britain more prosperous. It delays the nasty day when we’re no longer Great Britain, are just Britain instead..
The European trading area has made every man, woman and child in Britain more prosperous than they otherwise would be.
It has made every working man and woman, safer in the workplace, and less overworked too.
It has systematically raised the safety standards of consumer goods, and other consumables.
It has provided a fairer trading platform for British businesses to compete in.
For those who are interested enough, it has provided unparalleled and funded opportunities for students to spend time in universities and schools across Europe, and made it possible to create a European community of peoples unkeen to start killing each other again.

The success of the EU also reflected another truth. One not keenly understood here, for historic reasons, which is that there are very, very few countries on the planet able to make a successful, secure and prosperous go of being unitary actors. All countries below the superpower threshold are better in clubs of like-minded, or like-attributed other nations. Britain retains its place in the world because it’s a member of the EU (and a big player) not despite of it.

So, when I read in my e-version of the current bun that the Prime Minister is thinking of tying in the EU referendum with the General Election, my heart sank at the potential political opportunism. A government in crisis, and one which is unlikely to secure a second term, has unlocked the safe, got out the code book and is considering pressing the Euronutter button properly. A government which hasn’t effectively replaced the EU with another equally prosperous trading relationship, will be sailing the country down the river named decline.

So, whether you think the EU project is a bad one, or a doomed one, or one that just isn’t elected enough.. even if you think all of those things, the question is not about the EU. It’s about Britain, and whether Britain wants to retain the opportunity to be prosperous or not. We cannot leave the EU and become a grand-scale version of Jersey.. by some estimates over half the indigenous population there are on benefits, and the gap between rich and poor is beyond yawning. And for me, as someone who studies and lectures on security, we – the plucky British – are beyond independent solutions now, we rely on intergovernmental solutions like NATO. The same is true in trading and business, even if we don’t yet fully realise it. When we do, we’ll stop mucking about with Euro-referendums and instead engage properly and run the place.

Now, that would be worth voting for.

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  1.  
David Betz 2 July 2012 at 11:41

Ahem, Rob, this is complete bollocks. Your inalienable truths are simple assertions and half-baked at that. But let’s start with your last line. I agree let’s stop mucking around with Euro referendums and just have one. OK? Just ask the question: in or out, yes? What’s ‘messing about’ is what has happened since 1975–one lie after another, just one more slice of the salami.

As for your other points:

1. What’s to stop British business trading with Europe after we have left the EU? The rest of the world does just fine. For that matter we had better trade with the rest of the world before 1975 than after.

2. So let’s have a European trading area then. What need for more than that?

3. You have some reason to say that membership of the EU has made every Briton more prosperous than they otherwise would have been? How can you prove this? You simply assert it. What about the cost of bureaucracy? What about the cost of transfer payments? What about the cost to British fisheries?

But why listen to me on the innovation-killing power of the EU? Michael Ryan says it much better:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4HYSsrlcq8&feature=share

4. All of the improvements in the workplace might as well have been achieved under national law subject to the debate of the citizens of THIS nation. And that’s even accepting, for purposes of argument, that these ‘improvements’ were actually an improvement.

5. Safety standards–same as the above.

6. Students worldwide have never been so mobile as they are today. Foreign students are studying here in the UK in huge numbers (and paying their way) while Britons are studying abroad too in large numbers, independently of Erasmus.

6 a. You bolt on to your last point the old, formerly favourite, argument that the EU has made peace of Europe. You know, 60 years of peace in Europe is a great thing, but please show your work: explain how this is a result of European integration. On top of that, how, today, while study after study shows that the Eurozone crisis is driving the mutual loathing of member states, can you make the argument that this is all creating love and order?

And then there’s this:

‘The success of the EU also reflected another truth. One not keenly understood here, for historic reasons, which is that there are very, very few countries on the planet able to make a successful, secure and prosperous go of being unitary actors. All countries below the superpower threshold are better in clubs of like-minded, or like-attributed other nations. Britain retains its place in the world because it’s a member of the EU (and a big player) not despite of it.’

What are you talking about? The world is full of small to medium countries which are doing just fine to extremely well. I’m sorry, Rob, but no way is the EU somehow in tune with the globalising zeitgeist. You mean to say what we really, really need in an increasingly globalised age characterised by networks and rapidly reduced transactional flows of goods, ideas and people is a big, centralised, highly expensive bureaucracy?

‘Get the hell out of Brussels as fast as you can and back to business.’ That’s Michael Ryan. A genius. Just go watch the clip.

 

David Betz 2 July 2012 at 11:55

And Britain’s being in or out of the European Union has nothing at all to do with Britain being in or out of Europe.

Grrrrrr!!!!!

‘…we – the plucky British – are beyond independent solutions now, we rely on intergovernmental solutions like NATO. The same is true in trading and business, even if we don’t yet fully realise it.’

Can it be that the difference here is that I wasn’t educated in this country as a child? I seem to have missed out on the, apparently very effective, self-loathing sessions. Britain has huge opportunities and many advantages (one of which is not being in the Euro, of course) and more chances of an innovative and prosperous economy than many but it’s full moaners.

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Rob Dover 2 July 2012 at 12:16

Ah, it’s just a shame that it’s ‘bollocks’ that every single political and bureaucratic elite in Europe and those aspiring to be European believe in. I’ll go with the power and the money… But to answer your points in insufficient detail to satisfy you(!)

1. What’s to stop British business trading with Europe after we have left the EU? The rest of the world does just fine. For that matter we had better trade with the rest of the world before 1975 than after.

A. Tarrifs.

2. So let’s have a European trading area then. What need for more than that?

A. Trading areas require rules and compliance. Reducing some of the unnecessary competition (race to the bottom on safety and salaries). The realisation of this has led to some function creep (as per the weight of lit on it), but the vast majority is relevant and/or essential to the function of the union.

3. You have some reason to say that membership of the EU has made every Briton more prosperous than they otherwise would have been? How can you prove this? You simply assert it. What about the cost of bureaucracy? What about the cost of transfer payments? What about the cost to British fisheries?

The cost of the EU institutions is tiny. For a higher tax payer in the UK it works out at under 10pounds per year. I’ll sub you your ten quid in beer, if it makes you happier.

For our relative size and economic strength, we underpay into the EU and the trading benefits into the UK make us huge winners.

Fisheries – a wrinkle in the law (see Factortame and all that). Other international organisations would have stopped our fishing on environmental grounds anyway.

But why listen to me on the innovation-killing power of the EU? Michael Ryan says it much better:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4HYSsrlcq8&feature=share

A. An organisation that funds countless billions of pounds of research through its frameworks.. yep, sounds like an innovation killer to me.. (bangs head on table).

4. All of the improvements in the workplace might as well have been achieved under national law subject to the debate of the citizens of THIS nation. And that’s even accepting, for purposes of argument, that these ‘improvements’ were actually an improvement.

A. Now, that really is bollocks.

5. Safety standards–same as the above.

6. Students worldwide have never been so mobile as they are today. Foreign students are studying here in the UK in huge numbers (and paying their way) while Britons are studying abroad too in large numbers, independently of Erasmus.

A. Tiny numbers of Brits go abroad to study. Erasmus has opened up the field to the economically disadvantaged and consistently proved itself to be a motor for social mobility, not just for those who can naturally afford to travel.

6 a. You bolt on to your last point the old, formerly favourite, argument that the EU has made peace of Europe. You know, 60 years of peace in Europe is a great thing, but please show your work: explain how this is a result of European integration. On top of that, how, today, while study after study shows that the Eurozone crisis is driving the mutual loathing of member states, can you make the argument that this is all creating love and order?

Eurozone crisis has nothing to do with mutual loathing. It has everything to do with piss poor auditing and sharp accounting.

The very foundation of the EU is making all of its members interdependent on each other, making war unconscionable. This logic has been accepted for 60years.. And this is also why no-one sensible wants to leave. The interdependencies are so interwoven that leaving would be bureaucratic and financial catastrophe.

In terms of public discourse, I am happy to accept that I’m in a minority. But I am also to happily pass on and share my correct views on the EU(!).

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Dan 2 July 2012 at 12:39

The myth is that there a deal on offer which is can we keep free acces to the market and free movement for us, and get rid of all the nasty things that we do not like!!

I heard a Tory MP being interviewed this morning who was shocked, shocked that one of her constituents was arrested for theft under theEuropean arrest warrant. If he stolen in Yorkshire he should be arrested but if in Poland that was OK because they were ‘forign’.

The EU was set up in 1957 on the basis of ever closer union, it was always about more than Ecconomics and that is why we did not initially join and it was why we had our application rejected TWICE. We came back a third time and applied to join, anyone who thought the EEC was simply EFTA with different membership was not listening or an idiot.

Yes we could leave and stay in EEA but would have many of the restrictions we want to get away from still imposed but no ability to influence drafting them.

We could leave and depend on the stronger WTO rules of the present rather than the high tariffs of 1960′s and 70′s. That would work well in some areas and not others.

Leaving is a perfectly reasonable option, but it is not a no risk everyone wins option.

What is annoying is the permanent myth making that we never actually applied 3 times to join a a federal union but the poor ignorant Britons were hoodwinked into joining something they did not understand and then took 30 years to understand everyone else actually believed in ever closer union!

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David Betz 2 July 2012 at 13:26

I lived in Holland for a couple of years. It was far from uncommon to hear the same sorts of complaints there that the EU as it was was not the thing which they thought they had signed up for. Perhaps they are also poor and ignorant or perhaps there is something to the complaint.

I was 6 years old in 1975 and living on the other side of the Atlantic so I can’t say from experience. Looking back on the time through history and biography, however, I am struck by how weak and rudderless the country’s leaders (on both sides of the political spectrum) seemed at the time. In the midst of this crisis of national self-confidence they made a craven bargain which is to be regretted and should have been reversed long before now.

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David Betz 2 July 2012 at 13:18

Well, you’re right they’re unsatisfying because they’re unconvincing. No doubt the power and money are on the same rail with ‘every single political and bureaucratic elite’ (though actually not true as large parts of both Labour and the Conservative parties are not at all in favour, they’ve just whipped into line. It’s called cronyism and its high temple is to be found in Brussels.

Other European countries have a fine trade with the rest of Europe without being in the EU. Why shouldn’t we? Other countries of the world do a fine trade with Europe too. How oh how do they get by? There are half a dozen or more large free trade agreements in the world which get along quite well with the barest fraction of the meddling which the EU ‘requires’ (by which I mean has arrogated to itself by means of chicanery, salami slicing, and intimidation). Then there is the WTO.

No, ten quid on beer will not even begin to satisfy. Again, you simply assert that the costs are tiny, that we underpay and that we are ‘huge winners’. Really? You know this how? Because any government in this country has ever done a public cost-benefit analysis? No, couldn’t be that because none have. They merely assert that the benefits are self-evident. Because the EU budget, which incidentally is not ‘tiny’ in any sense of the word tiny, is regularly positively audited? No, it couldn’t be that because it hasn’t passed audit in almost 20 years. The Open Europe think tank leans slightly towards continued membership but at least they acknowledge the price of membership is high.

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/Page/Home/en/LIVE

Fisheries–ah, I see, that’s why Iceland still has a fishery and we don’t?

Innovation–did you even watch the clip? The point was about business climate not R & D expenditure but even on that point what are the striking successes of EU funded research? Moreover, where does Europe stand in R&D funding relative to its competitors? Do you reckon we spend more or less than most? I think you know the answer. The EU is model of neither productivity nor innovation.

I really don’t care much about Erasmus one way or the other. The sort of thing you admire in it is done by all sorts of organisations. Keep it by all means. Yay Erasmus! How much does that cost? Let’s cut out everything else.

‘The interdependencies are so interwoven that leaving would be bureaucratic and financial catastrophe.’ Yes, indeed, the political and bureaucratic elite in Europe which want to go with has very securely equipped the nations of Europe with explosive collars like the hapless prisoners in the film The Running Man. You don’t need a fence for that kind of prison because everybody knows that stepping across the line is suicide. This was an active contrivance, a nasty, cynical, premeditated act. Thank British pluck (and Gordon Brown) that we didn’t fall in for it.

Europe is an incipient disaster lurching from one ‘crisis summit’ to the next. You are making the case for lashing ourselves tighter to the mast of this destroyed sinking battleship? Of course you are in the minority. The public are not so indifferent to reality. Let’s have the vote and by all means have a debate over what Britain is and wants to be. Tomorrow would not be too soon.

Liam Fox’s speech today was pretty good:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/9369912/In-full-Dr-Liam-Foxs-speech-on-Britain-and-the-EU.html

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Rob Dover 2 July 2012 at 16:27

Well, the first thing to note is that neither you or I are going to be convinced by each other’s arguments, no matter how well or badly articulated they are. We are poles apart on this, and I’m very relaxed about that actually. It bothers me that we’re so far apart, on a purely personal level, but not intellectually.

And I wonder what you think about the proposition that if we put the binary ‘right/wrong’ off the table for the moment, that we’re into different models of capitalist system. My reading of what you’ve written is that you’re a free-marketeer and that in part the EU is a massive distortion of the market? By contrast I am more of a Keynesian. Profits are good, market management has a distinct and useful function to play. If I were to have an economic vision, it would that articulated by Krugman in the New York Review of Books. And so based these basic preferences we’re unlikely to ever find common ground. I see you evocation of Iceland, and all I can think of is a country that played the freemarket and went spectacularly bust. I mean, they make the Greeks look economically functional. Fisheries is small fry (hoho) too.

Now, that’s not paper over the disagreements on the detail. But I think is a way of covering the meta-level fracture.

I’m not sure I’m convinced by citing Fox, Iceland, nor the qualified accounts (a lot of the accounts issues are technical, rather than damning.. but agreed, neither you or I would get away with it). Ultimately, models that don’t incorporate a safety net or managed function worry me a bit: partly because the shit or bustness of them leaves a lot to chance, but also because us humble public servants never win in ‘pure’ market systems, because the operating economic logic is about hammering the cost base that we are part of. So, for me, supporting the EU is in line with my core preferences as a public servant. Reassuringly, the CBI seem to agree.

But anyway, I’m glad to have sparked such a strong exchange. I’m just waiting for the seal to join in, to complete my day….

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David Betz 3 July 2012 at 10:31

Hi Rob, sorry if I am aggressive on this point. Please don’t take it personally. It is an issue which is important to me. Also, I am afraid that too many times in this country the European Project has been advanced through falsitudes, fear-mongering, and hard sales tactics of the like which would embarrass a used car trader. I am determined that that sort of argument never prevails again. I really do want a debate on the European Union in the context of a national in/out referendum. I am prepared to change my position on us getting out if the facts of the case support that. I find it practically impossible to imagine that happening what with the harm the EU has done so self-evident but in principle I embrace the possibility. In short: referendum, now.

My objections to the EU do not rely solely on the economic pillar, or even mostly on that, but, yes, I think it is a part of our disagreement. I want a radically smaller state. I would, if I could, take a meat axe (metaphorically) to the public sector. I do not believe that we can spend our way to solvency. I see no reason at all to think that more public expenditure will lead to a more productive and vibrant economy. Frankly, I see no way at all that we can avoid a large and painful readjustment to our economic and social model. The sooner we realise that and get on with it the sooner we can come through the other end. In a decade maybe. My gut feeling is that Keynesian Krugmanism is a cup de sac.

I don’t consider myself a ‘public servant’ in the way that you, I think, do. I’m increasingly acutely aware of the privilege of my position. It is only a very rich society which can afford to pay people like me to be academics instead of shovelling coal or whatever. Ergo I, personally, consider it a top priority that we continue to be rich and get richer. The state cannot do that. Moreover, don’t you think they’ve done enough damage already to academia? You are much more a maker of widgets in the ‘business, skills, and education’ complex than your forebears ever were. For that matter, you are also proportionately less well paid, much less, than professors were back in the days when British government was much, much smaller.

I would locate the essential difference between us in your remark that if Britain were to remain Great it had to do so within the European Union. I think this is totally the reverse. Britain is I’ll at ease in the EU because it is forced to wear dwarf’s clothing that, still, I’ll suits it though god knows efforts to belittle it have been unrelenting for decades.

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David Betz 3 July 2012 at 10:34

All grammatical errors in the above are due to the stupid autocorrect function on the iPad!

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Rob Dover 3 July 2012 at 11:07

Hi David,

Thanks for this. That’s fair enough and I understand where you’re coming from.

And actually, we have the basis of a framework for discussion that could be used by our friends in European Studies to have some impact on the public debate (perish the thought in REF year..):

1) Economic model – personally, I think this is where – even for a relative Europhile like me – the EU has to prove its worth. The development of a European identity is secondary to the need to get richer, and for that richness to be widely felt, not just by a few. So, actually some decent data on how the EU performs as a trading bloc (internally, and externally) and how individual members and associate members (like Norway and Switzerland) benefit or not from their relationship with the EU is the be all and end all for me, but would feature highly with you as well I think.

2) The political project – I think the public discussion about this needs to be de-crapped and had properly. I am not going to myopically defend the institutions. The ‘democratic deficit’ needs to be explained and debated. I personally would want it explained and discussed alongside our own governance arrangements (because I think they’re not massively dissimilar, but that is a contested point). I would also want that because I think once the public saw how remote they were from national and supranational decision making they might want more of a role (which I’d be relaxed about) or stay as they are (which I’m also fine with).

3) One ship’s company – I think there is strong resistance to bailing out basket case countries. I don’t dissent from this, actually. The logic of the EU is that we do this for the greater good. A debate that brings out the mechanism of the wider global economy and its interdependencies might cast a slightly different light on the debate, but broadly this part of the European project is, for all intents and purposes, a dead parrot.

4) The Great in Britain. I’m not sure how we’d sort this one ‘objectively’. I like the idea that as a strong European player we can carry 400million people along with us. But, just like coalition government, there are going to be times when it’s more give than take. As a unitary actor, we are masters of our own destiny playing with the factors and forces that hit us, just like Iceland did. As a compromise point, I’d be more relaxed about us being a unitary actor, if I had any confidence we acting strategically now, or had the framework to bring on strategic thinkers of the future (as per previous debates we’ve had here).

On our place as academics.. I totally agree with your points here actually. We are poorly paid in comparison to the civil service linked salaries of yesteryear, and geared more to short-term focused outputs. I see it as public service because I try to find keen minds who will want to take on my interest in the subjects in their own way and in their own direction. We’re not true entrepreneurs because we don’t keep a proportion of the surplus. If universities were geared to allowing us to keep a proportion of the surplus we generated you’d see even crusty Marxists getting all entrepreneurial… I’m all in favour of freeing up the dead-hand of higher-ed bureaucracy.. I reckon we’d be surprised (and it’d be best done offline) how close our thinking was on this to be honest.

Anyhow, we need to bags us a quantsy EU studies group to fill in the gaps in our collective knowledge!

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Will Sheward 4 July 2012 at 09:56

“The Great in Britain. I’m not sure how we’d sort this one ‘objectively’.”

Am I the only person disturbed that someone who calls himself an academic doesn’t realise that Great Britain is a geographical term? Perhaps we should all move to Northern Ireland (or one of the islands) to escape Mr. Dover’s exciting EU project?

WillS

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Rob Dover 4 July 2012 at 10:33

Don’t worry Will, both David and I understand what Great Britain means in terms of constitutional and geographic significance. Just so you know, we were using it as a short-hand to describe which scenario presented the UK with optimal influence in the international system…

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jedibeeftrix 2 July 2012 at 15:30

“The EU isn’t just a useful addition for British business, it is British business. 70% of exports, in fact.”

that is a little far from the objective truth:

http://jedibeeftrix.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/question-for-nick-when-are-you-going-to-break-the-news/

the eu makes up about 48% of the total value in trade of both goods and services……………. and going down.

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Rob Dover 2 July 2012 at 16:32

Fascinating stuff. Many thanks for this. As readers of the blog will know, I’m always happy to receive contrary evidence, as it is useful to know.

I think what I find most interesting, and will please people who adhere to David’s line, is the figures relating to 2006, where trade with the EU and the Rest of World significantly moved, but covered each other almost exactly. Although a small snapshot, that would give some credence to the argument that the EU trade that would be lost in the withdrawal could be replaced.

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jedibeeftrix 3 July 2012 at 12:47

my pleasure.

i have always wondered what might be the explanation for that blip in the ONS figures…………….

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Rob Dover 3 July 2012 at 15:48

The only destabilising things to happen in 2006 were avian flu and the world cup in Germany….

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Thomas 3 July 2012 at 11:56

Read The Economist’s special report on London this week. It’s riveting.

http://www.economist.com/printedition/2012-06-30

And then, please, let’s stop being so provincial. Most countries are deeply provincial — but Britain, London mostly, is less so. That’s what makes it great.

Let’s not try to change this.

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Alex 6 July 2012 at 13:44

The argument that “the problem with the EU is all this regulation” is begging the question. The question is “tell me more about this libertarian revolution you want to impose on the UK if it wasn’t for those pesky furriners?”

The UK was not, actually, maximally libertarian pre-1973. Far from it. For this argument to work, you need to show that a): the UK has become far more regulatory economically since ’73 (think about it! Big Bang! LIBOR!) b) this is a bad thing c) it’s the EU’s doing d) you have actual plans to change this e) the British public would vote for them.

I have never heard of anyone on the Eurosceptic side who has answered these, and never heard of anyone who has even engaged with e). The Conservative Party hasn’t won an absolute majority since 1992 – this doesn’t sound like an electorate crying out for libertarianism and only denied by that terrible EU.

Note that the Libertarian Party ain’t at 40% in the polls and neither is UKIP.

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