Its the economy stupid… except when it isn’t

Bill Clinton’s now famous saying ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ is used to highlight that voters generally consider the economy to be the most important issue at elections.  But is there ever a time when that is not true?

Recent stats about the Brexit vote published by the BBC broke down the issues deemed most important to Remain and Leave voters.  Remain voters thought it was the economy but Leave voters thought sovereignty was, closely followed by immigration.


It certainly makes sense that the economy is often the most important issue.  People have families to care for, mortgages to pay down and a well paying secure job in a vibrant economy is the best way to get on.  So the fact that Remain voters rated the economy as the defining issue in the EU referendum stands to reason.  Telling a person that the economy, for once, is not the most important issue is akin to saying that there is something more important than providing for your family.  Obviously that is a hard sell.

I am going to argue that one of the issues more important than the economy is liberty and sovereignty.  Whilst a good economy allows you to provide for your family, liberty and sovereignty is a means of protecting your family and that is more important.  Moreover it is no coincidence that those societies around the world which are most free are also the most prosperous, a vote for liberty is normally also a vote for a better economy.

Don’t be confused, ‘a decision about liberty’ is not an oxymoron.  It is true that the very fact you have a vote means liberty cannot seriously be compromised, but that assumes that nothing can change and it ignores that the structures for further removal of sovereignty and liberty by the EU are in fact already in place (see here).  UK voters were faced with a decision about short term economic uncertainty on the one hand from a vote to Leave, and the prospect of continued removal of sovereignty and liberty by choosing to Remain.  The saying goes ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’.  Vigilance is ‘the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties’ and that perfectly sums up the mentality behind a vote to Leave.

Leave voters looked at the EU now and correctly judged that it posed a threat to the sovereignty and liberty of the people of Europe.  For the EU, in their push for a political union on the European continent, are deliberately creating a structure of government which is undemocratic, unaccountable and without adequate checks on power.  The intentions of EU leaders may be well placed, however it ignores the important lessons from history.  It must be remembered that well meaning governments can and indeed do, go bad, that not everyone believes that the people should be free, and that it only takes one person to change the entire history of a continent.  The structure of government shouldn’t be idealistic, it needs to define with precision how government intends to protect the rights of people, and be structured in a way which is democratic, transparent, accountable and has power distributed in the hands of the many.

Liberty unfortunately has become an abstract concept to those who live in Western democracies.  We are a generation that don’t know anything but liberty and we take our sovereignty and liberty for granted because we have never had to fight for it.  However when your rights of free speech, of equality, of justice under the law, of self determination, of democratic accountability, of protection against enemies foreign and domestic are eroded such that the will of others can be imposed upon you against your will – that is when you know liberty, and its value.   It is why the founder fathers took such care when writing the US constitution for they paid for their liberty with blood.  It is why it is with great alarm we see the EU with reckless abandon create a system of government that is undemocratic, unaccountable and with a concentration of power in the hands of un-elected bureaucrats.  It is why the economy wasn’t the most important thing in the British EU referendum.

So why is it that the Leave voters got it right?

Lets not pretend that most Leave voters have an in depth understanding of the EU institutions and how it works.  The Leave voters got it right because the inability of the UK government to control immigration was a perfect demonstration of how the EU works.  Leave voters correctly identified that immigration was caused by the EU’s policy of free movement of labour.  So when the people of the UK voted for a Conservative party that pledged to put a cap on migration, only to find out the EU could over rule their elected UK government, the penny dropped.  Leave voters realised that the issue of migration was actually a much bigger issue about sovereignty.


Brexit – was Leave the right decision?

If you haven’t noticed, Britain has decided to Leave the European Union.  On balance I believe it was the right decision, for although there are good reasons to stay in the European Union, there is a very strong case to be made to leave.

The Remain campaign spelled out very specific arguments during the referendum, mostly around the economy and the uncertainty that a vote to Leave would create.  Whilst it is true that Brexit would cause significant uncertainty and potentially some economic shock, at least in the short term, the longer term economic prospects of the UK economy are unknown.  In my view it is unlikely that Brexit will make much of difference to the long term performance of the UK economy – many of the greatest financiers of our time agree on that point.

In addition the Remain campaign highlighted that if the UK left Europe its national security would be put at risk because an exit would undermine cooperation with members of the European Union on issues such as security and intelligence sharing.  This argument doesn’t really pass the laugh test, hopefully I don’t need to explain why mutual self interest would mean intelligence sharing would be unchanged.  In addition UK military security primarily comes from NATO, not the European Union.

The Leave campaign focused on immigration, but more importantly on sovereignty.

Tackling the issue of immigration first, the charge is that mass immigration has been disruptive, costing British workers jobs and placed a burden on the NHS and other services – quite frankly it is hard to argue this isn’t the case.  As a result the Remain side countered with the label of racists or xenophobes, which is of course true for at least some Leave voters but unlikely to be true of the vast majority of Leave voters.

Sovereignty is the issue that concerns me most about the Brexit debate, for it is true that the European Union has morphed from a economic union to a currently failing attempt at a political union.

Britain initially joined the EU common market in 1973, over time the relationship it has with the EU changed, but it wasn’t Britain that was doing the changing, it was the EU.  The EU was expanding its borders, and with ambitions of a political union began the slow removal of sovereignty from member states, without the approval of the people.  As an example of this slow undemocratic removal of sovereignty, the ‘Treaty establishing a Constitution for the Europe’ which was designed to assume more powers for the EU was put to the public for vote in 2005 and was rejected by the peoples of the Netherlands and France.  As a result voting was suspended in the other EU member states.  Instead of accepting the people of France and the Netherlands didn’t want this Constitution leading to ever closer union, the EU instead amended the existing ‘Treaty of Rome’ and the ‘Maastricht Treaty’ in the new Treaty of Lisbon, got it signed by the heads of member states, and bypassed the people of Europe altogether.  The end result was the EU got its Constitution, giving it more powers but the people never got to vote on it because it was passed by stealth under the guise of the  ‘reform’ of existing treaties.

Likewise the European court in Strasbourg was initially set up to deal with trade disputes, instead it has evolved into the most powerful court in Europe and by slow creep has assumed the right to rule over important decisions taken by member states.  What this means is that laws passed in a sovereign country can be overruled by a non sovereign court of a quasi political union.  It isn’t that any of the laws the EU courts hand down are particularly bad, the problem is that it is process is undemocratic with the potential of going bad.

The EU court in Strasbourg is not the only undemocratic structure in Europe, in fact it is just one of several undemocratic institutions in the EU.  To demonstrate how, consider a comparison between the Government of the USA and the EU.

The USA has a written constitution which outlines the scope of government, its structure, the limits of its power and the rights of individuals.  In part the purpose of the constitution is to protect against an overbearing government  via the US Supreme court, the democratic vote of the people and depending on who you ask, the right to bear arms.  The USA has three arms of its government, the President (executive) and the two houses of Congress, the Upper House called the Senate, the Lower House called the House of Representatives.  The President is elected by the people and serves a 4 year term, the Senate is elected by the people and serves a 6 year term, and the Representatives are elected by the people and serve a 2 year term.  Most of the power of the USA lies with the Houses of Congress, not the Presidency, and all three bodies must agree on any legislation that must be passed.

Now consider the European Union.  There are 4 Presidents, which preside over 4 different branches of the European Union.  Those branches of the EU are the EU parliament, the EU commission (executive), the Council of Europe and the Council of the European Union.  None of the 4 presidents are elected by the people, the 27 (formerly 28) EU Commissioners are not elected by the people, the EU parliament is elected by the people, the Council of Europe is composed of heads of member states, and the Council of the European Union is national department heads of member states.  The EU parliament does have a say on who the Commissioners and Presidents are but the point to take away is that there is only one EU institution, the EU parliament, which is elected directly by the people with the explicit purpose of going to the EU and deciding on legislation.

The way the EU votes is also a challenge to the sovereignty of member states.  When the EU was first formed all legislation required unanimous agreement from members states before any legislation was passed into law.  This clause prevented member states from imposing laws on other member states against their sovereign wishes. The Lisbon treaty changed that however, now much of the legislation in the EU requires only a qualified majority, meaning that if enough member states agree on a piece of legislation they can impose it on other member states against their will.

The EU commission, created by the Lisbon a Treaty, is perhaps the most interesting EU institution of all.  Formed with one member from each country it is tasked with the sole objective of fostering closer EU integration, not as you might think protecting the best interest of member states.  The EU commission creates legislation to be approved by the EU parliament, which is dominated by a voting block of Eurozone members who want further integration often against the will of those members who wish only for an economic union.  The EU is also curious in another way because there is a definite pecking order of member countries.  Although in theory every member state is equal it is an open secret that France and particular Germany run the European Union and dictate its direction.

So why is the structure of the EU a problem?

In the American system every single member of the US government is accountable to the people through elections, that is not the case for the European Union, the people cannot force out EU Presidents or Commissioners because none of these positions are ever up for election.  Because they are not elected by the people, they are not accountable to the people and the EU can summon the EU courts to enforce many EU directives even if the member state objects.

The entire structure of the US government is designed through thoughtful consideration to ensure that ‘we the people’ can directly hold the government accountable and get rid of an elected officials via the ballot box or if necessary with the gun (right to bear arms).  This was borne out of the US war of independence, where the British government turned on its own citizens.  As a result the founding fathers wrote a constitution that ensured government could never do that again.  The EU has barely any such considerations, and as a result is politically dangerous.  For on the one hand you have an undemocratic, unaccountable institution lacking in transparency that is attempting to create a political union through the removal of sovereignty from members states.  And on the other you have a European Court in Strasbourg that can rule on laws created in other countries.  Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

The reasons for leaving Europe are strong, and on balance the UK made the right decision to Leave.  The economy is important but you cannot put a price on liberty, certainly it is worth more than a few % points of GDP.

Europe needs fundamental restructuring.  The protection of liberty in Europe requires it.