After Brexit, Good News for Free Trade in the U.K.
“Out and into the world” was the Spectator‘s headline on June 23, 2016, the day of the Brexit referendum. The cover showed Britain as a bright butterfly emerging from a small European Union-branded box.
Spectator” srcset=”https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly-300×169.jpeg 300w, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly-1024×576.jpeg 1024w, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly-768×432.jpeg 768w, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly-1536×864.jpeg 1536w, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly-1200×675.jpeg 1200w, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly-800×450.jpeg 800w, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly-600×338.jpeg 600w, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly-331×186.jpeg 331w, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BrexitButterfly.jpeg 1920w” sizes=”(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px”>I mention that headline for two reasons. First because, if I were an American, I might easily have formed the impression that Brexit was the U.K.’s version of Trumpism—nostalgic, nativist, and protectionist. This view, propagated by both supporters and opponents of Trump, finds almost hysterical expression in the pages of The New York Times, which runs regular features about what a racist hellhole Britain has become.
In fact, every libertarian I know (with one eccentric exception) voted Leave. We clocked the E.U. a long time ago for what it was: a dirigiste, corporatist, authoritarian racket. A
condition of Britain joining was that we had to abandon free trade with more distant countries—notably those in the Commonwealth, such as Canada and Jamaica, which had previously enjoyed largely unrestricted access to our markets. During the 1970s, we were obliged to apply the Common External Tariff in phases and, with it, the various non-tariff barriers designed to prop up politically connected Continental industries.
A consequence of leaving is that we can now trade freely with every continent—including, naturally, Europe. This brings me to the second reason for recalling the butterfly: Britain has, as I write, signed a staggering 63 new trade deals, including one with the European Union.
This was not in the Remainer script. Campaigners who wanted to remain in the E.U. believed Britain outside of it was supposed to be feebler and more introverted. Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, spent the referendum campaign talking about a high-seas, buccaneering Britain, but the other side, convinced that the only possible reason to vote Leave was host
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