Brexit and Political Theory

Generally speaking I find the Brexit conversation fascinating but have withheld much of my opinion on the matter due to the fact that I remain a mostly ignorant American with no influence of any amount on the politics of the United Kingdom.

Yet, my natural interests in the movement has lead me into some dangerous pontification which has produced this brief post on the matter. Within that context I make a few comments highlighting my thinking as well as my general, albeit distant, and unimportant support for the leave campaign. Here are a few observations.

  1. The EU rests on shaky ground regarding political philosophy, particularly in the context of modern governments, which tend to favor democratic and representative institutions. The political theory of the EU appears to be that of autocratic or technocratic rule with a (very) distant democratic check.
  2. Said political authority appears to be derived from the consent of the governments and not so much the governed, which requires that we ask “What powers can a government delegate to another governing body?” I don’t necessarily have an answer to this, but my general theory is that domestic matters, such as economic regulation, have a more tenuous relation with foreign bodies, as a result delegating them to another government is more likely to be illegitimate. However matters that deal with other governments such as immigration, trade, and strategic alliances (foreign policy) are subject to more delegation via international agreements and even quasi-government bodies, such as the WTO. This appears to be a step too far.
  3. Thus, policy-making by the EU appears to reach beyond that generally delegated to a large (unelected and un-ratified) body. Though the EU controls items such as free trade and migration, which yield substantial benefits and are logically related to a the governance of such a body, they appear to have overextend their reach when regulating the smaller economic activities, much of which is better monitored by bodies closer to the people. Indeed, it seems a stretch to say that the EU should have any authority over the daily economic activity of those residing in separate countries at all.
  4. Succession from the EU should be proportionate to the cost of entrance. If a mere majority vote in Parliament or by the people directly, was sufficient to enter the EU, exiting should be allowed by roughly the same measure. This is more salient when political authority is as tenuous as it is for the EU with few democratic or constitutional constraints in place to prevent run-away authoritarianism or over-burdensome government. (I actually think the rotating presidency is a better check than the very distant democratic/republican element). (For a very well thought out opposing view on this matter, listen to this discussion with Ilya Somin).
  5. Entrance into a political and governing body such as the EU should be done the “right way” if centralized European government is so important. This means creating a system that allows for representation and democratic checks instead of autocratic or technocratic regimes. Furthermore, these sorts of regimes should be ratified by super-majorities in the participating countries. The idea that exit by Scotland from the UK, or the UK from the EU, is a matter of a simple majority and doesn’t require more, seems to be a bit under-demanding.

In closing, I think it worth noting that though free trade and migration/immigration are economically beneficial and even a moral good, it alone is not sufficient to justify the existence of the European Union, particularly for those who also value some form of democratic check on government as well as limited government. Furthermore, limiting free trade did not seem to be a substantial factor for many on the leave side, in short it would likely still hold a majority within the British government and remain a policy for the people. Of course there are some risks regarding renegotiation, but they appear small. The immigration concern is more worrisome, but some form of immigration (and not closed borders) appears to be favored by a majority of UK voters as well as Parliament.

In the event either trade or immigration are limited, the possibility of any negative economic impact may be lessened when removing costly regulatory burdens currently imposed by the EU. It is also a calculation of risk, on the one side, how substantial is the risk that the UK would actually end free trade and close the borders versus how substantial is the risk that the EU would continue to infringe on domestic affairs? The latter seems to have a much more substantial risk as the EU has been largely unresponsive even during the referendum to leave. All things considered, I’m with leave. (Like they care).

James C. Devereaux is an attorney and freedom fanatic. Questions, complaints and hysterics can be him on twitter @jcdevereaux1. All views are representative of author only and not of any affiliate or employer.

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