Stay or go: How should a libertarian feel about Brexit?

You’d think it’d be pretty simple for British libertarians to be all-in on Brexit. After all, Newsweek called “Brexit: The Movie” a “libertarian’s wet dream of Randian proportion” because of low taxes and tariffs. The (maybe?) surprising thing is libertarians seem a little mixed on whether to Brexit stage left or stay in the EU.


Liz Mair was the first to express her decision to vote against Brexit earlier this week via Twitter.

Her last comments are obviously a shot at President Barack Obama suggesting Britain would go to the back of the line on trade deals. There certainly seems to be a bit of fear regarding the economy and whether it’s a risk Britain should take. Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman doesn’t think it’s worth it. Via FEE:

If we go for the Norway model on leaving I think the economic impacts would be minimal, but the risk that we don’t is too great to tolerate. Markets clearly think that there is a big risk, and we have seen that a Leave vote has the potential to destroy hundreds of billions of pounds worth of wealth.

Markets are pricing the cost of Leave.No, markets are not irrational, and no, they are not just panicking. If you think that they are, there’s easy money to be made – so why aren’t you making it? No: they are pricing in the danger of a colossal act of self-harm if we leave, which has been endorsed by the two people most likely to be Prime Minister by the end of the year. Leaving the Single Market should never have been on the table, but now, unbelievably, it is.


Bowman also worries about the effects on immigration (NOT from Muslim countries, but in general) and also compares the Leavers to Donald Trump. His most effective argument may be what happens if too much power is given to those pushing Brexit.

To the extent that the EU does restrict democracy, it is often for the best, preventing governments from doing nasty, illiberal things (like restricting immigration or subsidising domestic firms). There’s a small chance that a Jeremy Corbyn could be elected – if he is, under the British political system he would have basically unlimited power to do whatever he wants. The EU limits that power, and in my view that’s a good thing.

British artist Paul Rainey (whose political beliefs I don’t know) is also worried about tyranny.

There are certainly British libertarians who are looking forward to Brexit. John Phelan of Cobden Centre believes the fears of economic depression are overstated. Via FEE:

The EU is becoming less and less economically important to the UK. In 2002, 61 percent of British goods exports went to the EU, by 2014 that was down to 44 percent – a fall of 29 percent. This, it should be remembered, occurred at a time when the population of the EU increased by about 102 million with the expansions of 2004 and 2007.

By contrast, the fall in intra-EU trade for the EU as a whole was just 9 percent. In other words, the EU became less important to the UK at three times the rate than was the case for other EU members. Indeed, only Malta sends a lower share of its goods exports to other EU members.

For all the talk of the single market and free trade in Europe, the EU is, in fact, a customs union with a wall of tariffs around it. For example, look at its recent desire to use tariffs to protect EU citizens from cheap Chinese steel, which were opposed by the British government.


Phelan also points out Britain to stay in EU’s single market, even if it wasn’t an EU member. He also argued it was ridiculous to suggest there’d be more freedom and liberty of Britain remained EU:

I confess, I find this argument curious given that the people who originate legislation in the EU, the European Commission, are political appointees, some of whom have never been elected to anything, by anybody, anywhere. And, by one estimate, the cost of the 100 most burdensome EU-derived regulations to the UK economy stands at £33.3bn a year in 2014 prices.

Both arguments are persuasive, and warrant consideration. There is a fear of tyranny should Britain leave, just like freedom-lovers were hesitant to support Scotland’s independence push because it was being run by socialists and the left wing Scottish Nationalist Party (which also favored EU). If Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister upon Brexit, it’d be like putting Bernie Sanders in charge of the U.S. (although Corbyn is anti-Brexit). So there is a danger to Britain going at it alone. I honestly don’t know how I’d vote were I a British citizen. It would depend on what the plan was for Brexiters and if it aligned with my own beliefs of freedom, liberty, and free markets. If there were enough freedom and liberty folk who believed they could get in power, then great. If it was being pushed by a buncha of leftists, then maybe not.


Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on HotAir Videos

John Stossel 12:01 AM on December 07, 2023
Jazz Shaw 8:01 PM on December 06, 2023