A vote to leave the European Union would diminish both Britain and Europe

THE peevishness of the campaigning has
obscured the importance of what is at stake. A
vote to quit the European Union on June 23rd,
which polls say is a growing possibility, would
do grave and lasting harm to the politics and
economy of Britain. The loss of one of the EU’s
biggest members would gouge a deep wound in
the rest of Europe. And, with the likes of
Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen fuelling
economic nationalism and xenophobia, it would
mark a defeat for the liberal order that has
underpinned the West’s prosperity.
That, clearly, is not the argument of the voices
calling to leave. As with Eurosceptics across
the EU, their story is about liberation and
history. Quitting the sclerotic, undemocratic EU,
the Brexiteers say, would set Britain free to
reclaim its sovereign destiny as an outward-
looking power. Many of these people claim the
mantle of liberalism—the creed that this
newspaper has long championed. They sign up
to the argument that free trade leads to
prosperity. They make the right noises about
small government and red tape. They say that
their rejection of unlimited EU migration stems
not from xenophobia so much as a desire to
pick people with the most to offer.
Singapore on steroids
The liberal Leavers are peddling an illusion. On
contact with the reality of Brexit, their plans
will fall apart. If Britain leaves the EU, it is
likely to end up poorer, less open and less
innovative. Far from reclaiming its global
outlook, it will become less influential and more
parochial. And without Britain, all of Europe
would be worse off.
Start with the economy. Even those voting
Leave accept that there will be short-term
damage (see article). More important, Britain is
unlikely to thrive in the longer run either.
Almost half of its exports go to Europe. Access
to the single market is vital for the City and to
attract foreign direct investment. Yet to
maintain that access, Britain will have to
observe EU regulations, contribute to the
budget and accept the free movement of
people—the very things that Leave says it must
avoid. To pretend otherwise is to mislead.
Those who advocate leaving make much of the
chance to trade more easily with the rest of
the world. That, too, is uncertain. Europe has
dozens of trade pacts that Britain would need
to replace. It would be a smaller, weaker
negotiating partner. The timetable would not be
under its control, and the slow, grinding history
of trade liberalisation shows that mercantilists
tend to have the upper hand.
Nor is unshackling Britain from the EU likely to
release a spate of liberal reforms at home. As
the campaign has run its course, the Brexit
side has stoked voters’ prejudices and
pandered to a Little England mentality (see
article). Despite Leave’s free-market rhetoric,
when a loss-making steelworks at Port Talbot in
Wales was in danger of closing, Brexiteers
clamoured for state aid and tariff protection
that even the supposedly protectionist EU
would never allow.
The pandering has been still more shameless
over immigration. Leave has warned that
millions of Turks are about to invade Britain,
which is blatantly false. It has blamed strains
on public services like health care and
education on immigration, when immigrants,
who are net contributors to the exchequer, help
Britain foot the bill. It suggests that Britain
cannot keep out murderers, rapists and
terrorists when, in fact, it can.
Britons like to think of themselves as bracingly
free-market. They are quick to blame their
woes on red tape from Brussels. In reality,
though, they are as addicted to regulation as
anyone else. Many of the biggest obstacles to
growth—too few new houses, poor
infrastructure and a skills gap—stem from
British-made regulations. In six years of
government, the Tories have failed to dismantle
them. Leaving the EU would not make it any
How to make friends and irritate people
All this should lead to victory for Remain.
Indeed, economists, businesspeople and
statesmen from around the world have queued
up to warn Britain that leaving would be a
mistake (though Mr Trump is a fan). Yet in the
post-truth politics that is rocking Western
democracies, illusions are more alluring than
Thus the Leave campaign scorns the almost
universally gloomy economic forecasts of
Britain’s prospects outside the EU as the work
of “experts” (as if knowledge was a hindrance
to understanding). And it dismisses the Remain
camp for representing the elite (as if Boris
Johnson, its figurehead and an Oxford-educated
old Etonian, personified the common man).
The most corrosive of these illusions is that
the EU is run by unaccountable bureaucrats
who trample on Britain’s sovereignty as they
plot a superstate. As our essay explains, the
EU is too often seen through the prism of a
short period of intense integration in the 1980s
—which laid down plans for, among other
things, the single market and the euro. In
reality, Brussels is dominated by governments
who guard their power jealously. Making them
more accountable is an argument about
democracy, not sovereignty. The answer is not
to storm out but to stay and work to create the
Europe that Britain wants.
Some Britons despair of their country’s ability
to affect what happens in Brussels. Yet Britain
has played a decisive role in Europe—ask the
French, who spent the 1960s keeping it out of
the club. Competition policy, the single market
and enlargement to the east were all
championed by Britain, and are profoundly in its
interests. So long as Britain does not run away
and hide, it has every reason to think that it will
continue to have a powerful influence, even
over the vexed subject of immigration.
True, David Cameron, the prime minister, failed
to win deep reform of Britain’s relations with
the EU before the referendum. But he put
himself in a weak position by asking for help at
the last minute, when governments were at
loggerheads over the single currency and
Some Britons see this as a reason to get out,
before the doomed edifice comes tumbling
down. Yet the idea that quitting would spare
Britain is the greatest illusion of all. Even if
Britain can leave the EU it cannot leave Europe.
The lesson going back centuries is that,
because Britain is affected by what happens in
Europe, it needs influence there. If Germany is
too powerful, Britain should work with France to
counterbalance it. If France wants the EU to be
less liberal, Britain should work with the Dutch
and the Nordics to stop it. If the EU is
prospering, Britain needs to share in the good
times. If the EU is failing, it has an interest in
seeing the pieces land in the right place.
Over the years this newspaper has found much
to criticise in the EU. It is an imperfect, at
times maddening club. But it is far better than
the alternative. We believe that leaving would
be a terrible error. It would weaken Europe and
it would impoverish and diminish Britain. Our
vote goes to Remain.


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