Why am I voting for Brexit? Why, as a citizen of both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, do I think Britain should leave the European Union?
I’m certainly not backing Brexit to be popular. While British voters as a whole remain evenly split ahead of 23rd June, most of my London-based media colleagues staunchly back Remain. “Only the old, racist or stupid want Brexit,” is the basic view of the British media class.
It strikes me this bien pensant consensus is wrong. It was wrong when “most economists” and media-types wanted the UK to join the euro in the late 1990s – which I strongly opposed. It was wrong, also, ahead of the Iraq war – which I also opposed.
I’m backing Brexit because, as an economist who’s studied the EU for years, doing so is common sense. I back Brexit because, while it’s a shame people ridicule me for wanting Britain to leave, that’s not a good enough reason to stay silent.
The EU accounts for 45pc of all UK trade and falling, down from 55pc five years ago. Europe is the world’s slowest growing continent, apart from Antarctica. The Treasury claims British households will be £4,300 a year worse off by 2030 with the OECD’s “Brexit shockwave” casting us into penury. These ridiculous rigged “studies” are all part of “Project Fear”, designed to scare voters.
Economists at the Treasury and EU-funded OECD do what their political masters tell them. And right now David Cameron’s Premiership, and the “European project” in its current form, would be entirely upended by Brexit.
The UK, free from onerous EU regulations and the common tariff on non-EU imports, could well grow faster outside. A Brexited Britain would focus more on trade with fast-growing and populous emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere – nations set to dominate the global economy.
The EU suits the big UK corporates, banks and professional firms as Brussels-based lobbying and red tape keeps smaller challengers at bay. A large majority of small- and medium-sized firms, though, accounting for much of Britain’s creativity and innovation and two-thirds of all employment, want Brexit.
“Europe” simply isn’t working. The central pillar of “ever closer union” – the euro – is doing untold damage. Locked in a high-currency straitjacket, Greece and Spain are suffering 40-50pc youth unemployment. Italy, having barely grown since the euro’s 1999 launch, is on the brink of a major banking crisis. Unable to depreciate their currencies, such economies are being sacrificed on the altar of “more Europe”. When the euro implodes, as it will, the big EU economies will pick up the tab. Britain is better off out.
“Free movement of people”, meanwhile, sounds good in theory but is naïve and dangerous. Massive wage differentials between member-states have driven record migration. UK net immigration rose above 330,000 last year – more than twice that if gauged by new national insurance numbers. Just last year, Cameron was re-elected on a pledge to bring the figure below 100,000 – impossible as long as we remain in the EU.
Hailing from a long-line of Irish builders who came to London, I’ll always back immigration. But when the pace is as fast as now, while great for big firms and the wealthy, economically-vulnerable working people suffer, their wages flattened. That’s why, across Europe, rather nasty parties opposing all immigration, are rapidly attracting voters. Unless “freedom of movement” is modified, restoring public trust in immigration, British and European politics will get really ugly.
Irish people needn’t fear Brexit. While I understand concerns among border communities, Anglo-Irish relations are better than they’ve perhaps ever been. These are issues we can solve. And while the UK accounts for a fifth of Irish trade, €1bn a week – that will continue. Ireland has no trade deal with America, which generates a similar share of Irish commerce.
Britain and Ireland have traded for centuries, through thick and thin, due to mutual benefit. These two great peoples, entwined by culture, history and blood, don’t need the permission of Brussels to maintain the two-way flow of goods, services and people across the Irish Sea.
Liam Halligan writes his weekly “Economics Agenda” column in The Sunday Telegraph